Poetry is Lit(erature)

Yes, I consider poetry literature.

Generally, when I think of “literature,” I think of the greats or classics, such as Frankenstein, Dickens’ works, Jane Eyre (which, admittedly, I haven’t read), and others of the like. I think of novels with substance, novels that make you think, novels that dredge up – in this underhanded way – something about society or human nature that everyone else is afraid to address. The ones that, though the reader may resist, glean every bit of emotion or particles of knowledge from your soul – the radicals.

That, to me, constitutes literature.
A novel that makes waves. Demands its place in history. Fights for itself. Maybe a little self-insistent, a little pretentious, but has the right to be and is so for the greater good.

This is actually a question we discussed in one of my lit classes: What is “literature”? What is the distinguishing factor between “literature” and just a plain, ‘ole book? What makes the two discrete?

Truth is, there really is no concrete answer; it’s really up to you to decide. But, and I don’t mean to step on any toes, if someone wants to purport that Fifty Shades of Grey should go down as a member of the “literature” family, I would argue to the death over that. I got through not even half of that novel (having been prompted by the hype), and as a self-respecting student of English, I physically couldn’t read any more.

I don’t mean to sound prude, but I feel as though those who have studied novels, gotten to the grit and grime, read the criticism, and developed their own theses really know what literature truly is and have the trained minds to categorize.

That being said, to each his own. And I’m not extremely well-versed in classic literature – I have forgotten some stuff, I don’t pretend to know all of the nuances and allegory within Dante’s Inferno (which I haven’t even finished yet), nor what Shakespeare was talking about in half of his plays (I honestly prefer the sonnets).

But, I’ve studied, had a lot of exposure, know a lot, and, well, love it. It’s me. It’s who I am. But give me a rudimentary math equation, and I’m done.

So, I don’t judge people if they don’t know the classics or if they prefer to read the pop stuff of today. Really, I cannot judge, as I have not read one single book out there that has been published recently, or semi-recently. So, maybe some of it actually is good. Maybe someone can school me in what’s out there today.

As usual, I’ve digressed, but my original point is as follows: Poetry is literature. At the very least, it is a subgenre, or category. Just as the likes of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle or Gulliver’s Travels (not a favorite of mine, but taking the novel as a whole, the satire is pretty amusing) have made radical statements (or, at least, have made any kind of statement at all) and have dared to expose hidden truths (or the author’s contentions), so, too, have the likes of Oliver Goldsmith in “The Deserted Village” and Wordsworth in “Tintern Abbey.” Poetry has served the same purpose as literature. Heck, some poems are even as long, or almost as long, as novels, or longer (take Alexander Pope’s “The Dunciad” or Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” for instance). Dante’s Inferno is yet another classic example.

In addition, just as novels take certain forms, so, too, do poems; not only does the actual content of the poem convey meaning, but the form the poem takes also adds to what it’s saying. There are poems out there in which the words are arranged so as to create an actual object.

The rhyme scheme, the rhythm, the style, the couplets, the stanzas, and so forth all coalesce to say something, to give the reader hints and clues as to what it’s about, or what it could be about, even if the wording is vague and ambiguous. Actually, even ambiguity can be a clue. Everything adds to tone. Some have languishing imagery that conveys a sense of peacefulness or maybe even sadness, possibly mirroring the poem’s setting. Some are succinct and to the point, alluding to a sense of urgency or disdain. Some are downright lugubrious, such as Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village,” which conveys the dolorous sensation of an entire cultural shift from a once-beautiful village to a dirty, dusty, inhumane, and dangerous city where working and avoiding death are basically formed into one entire ideology.

In any case, poems are just as versatile as novels, and they serve a very similar purpose. And, they can even be as long. Although poems tend to have maybe a little more color, a little more flair, and a little less detail/character/plot development than novels do, I hold them in the same (or similar) regard.

So, I realize at this point that this has turned into a general opinion piece rather than a discussion of a poem I wanted to write about, but I couldn’t have a literature blog without a discussion of what literature is.

I promise, my next post is gonna get right to the point. Probably.


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