A few days ago I read a message that stopped me in my tracks and made me start questioning myself. It was a very simple message – “If possible, when it’s ready I would be interested in reading your poem. Thanks in advance”. The message was from a Brazilian photographer in response to my request for permission to use their photo of a bird as part of an illustration for a poem I’d written. I immediately felt the need to prevent the inevitable disappointment about my poem that high expectations for lyricism and beauty would cause and hastily mentioned that the poem was very simple and was, in fact, merely a list of bird names like the others in my mini-series of Brazilian bird poems.
I’m not really clear on what poetry is, to be honest. But I consider these to be poems, although I haven’t written them in the traditional sense. It feels more like I have just put them together, or curated them in some way. It really did seem that the poems jumped out at me when I was looking at pictures of birds and reading their names, and it was then just a case of me guiding the birds into their respective poems.
More recently, I’ve been reading more visual poetry and so I’ve probably been a bit more aware of the visual aspect and impact of the words. I would imagine that most high impact visual poems are relatively short, or at least most are probably not epics. In any case the poem I was referring to is only six lines (and six words) long and, although there is a progression of sorts, there is no urgency, intensity of emotion, or even evocative imagery that might be associated with poetry. I suddenly started wondering whether I could say that a) it was a poem at all and b) I had written it since the words already existed.
I happened to be listening to one of The Rabbit Room‘s spin-off podcasts around the same time as this message prompted my self-questioning. The Habit Podcast is a series of conversations with writers about writing and I have recently discovered it to be alternately challenging, thought-provoking and encouraging. I was listening to Season 2, Episode 43 when I was suddenly struck by Andrew T Le Peau’s comment that “Creativity is combining two things that already exist but that haven’t been combined before.”
This was deeply reassuring for me. Yes, my little poem will never appear in any poetry canon for its revolutionary philosophical content, or for its masterful lyricism, but the fact of its being merely a list of bird names doesn’t negate its validity as a poem or as an expression of creativity. So I’m happy to say that I’ve accepted that my poems are poems and that I have written them in the sense that I have ushered the birds into their own poems.
I’m still thinking about the wider questions around all beauty and creativity being a reflection of the Beautiful One, our Creator, and an expression of His essence, no matter how imperfect. But that is another post for another time (now here). Until then I will be seeking to spend time soaking in the beauty of the Beautiful One and being inspired by the creation of His hands and we’ll see where else that takes me.