Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives According to the Muse (A dialogue in 2 halves) Part 1: What is Poetry? Paul Andruss

It is time for another post from my archives and one of the articles by Paul Andruss.

Paul who shares a conversation between a Muse and a Pilgrim on the subject of poetry…..and its various forms.

According to the Muse (A dialogue in 2 halves) Part 1: What is Poetry? by Paul Andruss

Wrapped in Light  An illustration by Donata Zawadzka (for Thomas the Rhymer by Paul Andruss)

There are people who,
Aspiring to be considered poets,
Devise mundane sentences
Usual to any written piece
And arranging them in verse
Claim it is a poem
According to the muse
It’s not

Pilgrim: So why Mother Muse, why’s it not a poem? Coz, it sure looks like poetry to me.

So saith the Muse: First of all son, I’m not your mother, I’m a goddess. You can abase yourself on the ground before me if you like, but otherwise less of your lip. Second, do I look like a bloody English teacher?

Pilgrim: But, but, but…

Muse: Oh dear, you sound like an outboard motor.

Let me put you out of your misery. It is not poetry because, although it has rhythm, there is no poetic impulse. It is not what a poem looks like that matters. It is the emotion it stirs.

As a dear friend of mine, Marianne Moore said, ‘Poetry is a matter of skill and honesty in any form whatsoever, while anything written poorly, although in perfect form, cannot be poetry.’  Let me quote from her poem:

nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and school-books”;
all these phenomena are important.
One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets,
the result is not poetry,

Marianne Moore – Poetry

Pilgrim: So who’s she then?

Muse: How can you hope to write poetry if you do not know the first thing about it?

Marianne Moore (1887- 1972) was a modern American poet whose Collected Poems published in 1951 won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Bollingen Prize. In his introduction to her work, T. S. Eliot wrote: ‘My conviction has remained unchanged for the last 14 years; Miss Moore’s poems form part of the small body of durable poetry written in our time.’

I take it you know T.S. Elliot?

Pilgrim: Sort of!

Muse: The Lovesong of J.Alfred Pruflock?

Pilgrim: Errrrrmmmm…


Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

Anything Pilgrim? Does it yield any emotion?

Pilgrim: Well it’s good inn’t it

Muse: Good inn’t it! Blimey! This is going to be harder than I thought.

Marianne Moore revolutionised the rhythmic base of poetry by only using a pre-determined number of syllables per stanza as her unit of measure. In some ways she was extending what had been done previously with classical English poetic meters such as Iambic Pentameter, which used small groups of five stressed and unstressed syllables in a line.

Originally derived from Classic Latin verse, Iambic Pentameter was adopted by Medieval French troubadours in their Chansons de Geste (heroic songs such as the Song of Roland) and developed in the Renaissance by Dante and Petrarch. It is also believed Shakespeare’s own actor troupe at the Globe Theatre, stressed his words to make the speeches of his plays follow iambic rhythm.

Due to his influence it became a dominant meter in English poetry. Compare Ozymandias a sonnet written by Shelly in loose iambic pentameter with Byron’s lyrical She Walks in Beauty, in iambic tetrameter.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Percy Bysshe Shelley – Ozymandias

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;

Lord Byron – She Walks in Beauty

In using used a pre-determined number of syllables within the verse, Marianne freed poetry from the historical anchors of rhyming schemes, alliteration and assonance, ensuring nothing got in the way of the sheer delight in language, and the precise, heartfelt expression, poetry must contain.

Notice how Sylvia Plath echoes this in Fever 103°, allowing the poetic impulse to transcend the limits set by the verse by flowing into the next

Pure? What does it mean?
The tongues of hell
Are dull, dull as the triple

Tongues of dull, fat Cerberus
Who wheezes at the gate. Incapable
Of licking clean

The aguey tendon, the sin, the sin.
The tinder cries.
The indelible smell

Of a snuffed candle!…

Sylvia Plath – Fever 103°

By working in syllabic blocks, Marianne rekindled interest in free verse, which had originated with the English translation of the Psalms in the 1300s. Its use in Walt Whitman’s strictly metric but unrhymed experiments led to Allen Ginsberg’s 1957 ground breaking radical performance poem Howl.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz, who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,

Allen Ginsberg – Howl

Ginsberg’s stream of consciousness approach in turn influenced the whole beat generation, allowing free poetry to find its way into all forms of expression: books, plays, cinema and music. His descendants are the Punk and Post-punk poets, and modern RAP (Rhythm And Poetry) artists.

Critics saw stream-of-consciousness as containing the poetic purity of speech. Half-poets, as dear Marianne would say, saw no more than liberation from difficult poetic constraints, and thought, no doubt with relief, ‘anything goes’; not realising poetry lies not within its form but its emotional impact.

They could not see free verse is only free from ‘the tyrant demands of the metered line’. It retains poetic form and impulse. As T.S Elliot said, ‘No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job.’

F. Scott Fitzgerald advised a young writer asking for his opinion, ‘I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly… This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have… none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.’

Poetry is not meant to be easy. It is forged in suffering and sacrifice, shaped with sweat and toil, and tempered by blood. This is what earns poets the right to high regard. For they willingly paid the price lesser mortals shrank from.

Now do you understand Pilgrim?

Poetry is what you write; its source; its inspiration.

Not how it looks, written upon a page.

©Paul Andruss 2018

About Paul Andruss.

Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.

Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.

Finn Mac CoolThomas the Rhymer

Connect to Paul on social media.

Facebook Page:

You can find all of Paul’s previous posts and gardening column in this directory:

Thank you for dropping in today and as always please leave your questions and comments for Paul… thanks Sally.

Part two tomorrow…..


33 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives According to the Muse (A dialogue in 2 halves) Part 1: What is Poetry? Paul Andruss

    • Robert, you comment about long breath lines in Whitman it really interesting. These days, we forget poetry really does not come fully to life until it is read aloud -even if only to oneself. I think it is often easy to take someone’s genius for granted until a comment like yours pulls you up short and makes you look at something with fresh eyes- then you appreciate creativity, of all description, is a gift and an instinct, that technique can only ever hope to emulate, while never serving as a substitute. Best Paul

      Liked by 3 people

      • Robert I find the technical processes of writing and how and if they can be differentiated from inspiration eternally fascinating. For example I once read a long essay on D H Lawrence’s use of flowers in Sons and Lovers and Women in Love where the author argued how Lawrence’s choice of flowers in different scenes resonated with the emotion of those scenes. Then I began to wonder if Lawrence might have made those choices deliberately rather than unconsciously as the author argued … then I came full circle by thinking even if he did the genius whether subconsciously or by rational choice was that Lawrence could add another layer into the prose to make the cognoscenti think. Technically or instinctively it is a stroke of genius either way. All my very best Paul

        (PS notice how I left out Lawrence’s use of flowers in Lady Chatterley’s lover where, where he put the flowers landed him in all sorts of trouble. Cheers P)

        Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right Balroop, Poetry is all about emotional resonnance.
      I love Shelley’s Ozymandius too. While researching this I came across the story of the poem on Wikipedia. Apparently it was originally written for a competition during the post Napoleonic craze for all things Egyptian. It was not the only one. A chap called Smith wrote another with a different take. It is on the Ozymandius article below in full. Here is a brief snatch…
      … when thro’ the wilderness
      Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
      He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
      What powerful but unrecorded race
      Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
      It does no good to compare one poet’s vision to another but I find this version just a chilling in its own way.
      All my best Paulx

      Liked by 2 people

  1. As always Paul, an amusing and informative way to tell us a story. I loved this and this line in particular resonated – It is not what a poem looks like that matters. It is the emotion it stirs. That is the core essence I believe ❤ xx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Weekly Round Up -Herbie Hancock, Gems from Your Archives and Talkative Parrots. | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  3. Pingback: Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives – According to the Muse (A monologue in 2 parts) Part Two – Born to Die by Paul Andruss | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

I would be delighted to receive your feedback (by commenting, you agree to Wordpress collecting your name, email address and URL) Thanks Sally

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.