The Many Faces of Poetry: Where Does Poetry Come From?

The Many Faces of Poetry 2

Where Does Poetry Come From?

I keep inquiring into the nature of poetry: where does it come from? It’s a question that opens a lot of introspection into the nature of literature itself. Poetry is the ultimate ancestor of literature. There was the spoken word, the saga, told around fires surrounded by rapt listeners. Poetry came from the telling of heroic stories. Beowulf, the Eddas, the Greek epics, the Chaldean cycles. We’ve come a long way from the spoken word, the recitals that spawned the invention of text itself. People cared enough about the preservation of their cultural history that they made the effort to write it down. Ancient stories survived the eons, so that we still have them, we still can read The Odyssey or learn about the trials of Gilgamesh. In truth these long recitals are almost unbearable in the real world but they are like artifacts in museums. We have them. We can reach into their labyrinths and return with answers to questions that we must always ask. Why are we here? What are we doing?

Poetry is the literary equivalent of cave drawing. Mankind, many thousands of years ago, felt the impulse to make an artistic statement, whether it be for a ritual gathering of game animals or to praise the gods for their benevolence. We are still, when we write poetry, drawing on cave walls. We are traveling backward in time to re-enact the original creative impulse. What came first, I wonder? Did poetic recitation pre-date the drawing on cave walls. Or did they come at the same time? I wonder what anthropologist will research that question and tell us about the history of art. All of this speculation is to invoke the origin of Art itself. Poetry has changed with the human race. We are not the same people who told and re-told The Odyssey. We are modern people with a modern poetry, a poetry that has become more free as we re-invent the structures of literature.

We must ask another important question, one that I will address in a later essay. What does poetry do? We must break this down into two parts. What does it do for the poet? What does it do for its audience?

The poet writes to express his or her state of being. It may be emotional, intellectual or both. A poet, however, usually needs fire to lure an audience, so poetry begins in the emotions, where the fire lives. There are three things that literature needs to provide in order to attract an audience: information, inspiration, and entertainment. Who will listen to poetry if it’s not entertaining? Many are the yawns I’ve seen at poetry readings, glances at the wristwatch, restless fidgeting. Entertain us, poet! Or go home, get off the stage.

I’m rushed this month. We’re moving into a house, a beautiful house!


A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


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