Sunday 12 December 2021

The vocabulary of poetry appreciation

Wine-tasting has its vocabulary. So does poetry appreciation. Orbis magazine has many pages of reader feedback which provide a useful sample. In the recent issue 198 I noticed that the most popular phrases are about

  • how well the poet collected the data/experience: "precisely observed", "beautifully observed", "precise observation"
  • the conversion into words: "captures" was popular (of "a moment", "the past", "the essence", "the intensity"). There's "compressed energy"
  • the artifice/craft of the words: "constructed" appears twice ("beautifully constructed", "well constructed") and there's "exquisitely crafted", "well made" and "clever". "precision of language" appears too - see my Poetry and Precision article.
  • the effect on the reader (getting the original data/experiences back): "evocative" appears more than once. There's "immersive" and "relatable". Also "amusing"

These phrases suit the idea of poets having experiences that they try to communicate to readers using expertise which ideally can be measured. I think the poems in Orbis have a wider aesthetic range than this, but only certain types of poems attract comment, it seems to me.

I'd imagine that if Shearsman magazine had a correspondence page, the vocabulary would emphasise other features.

The phrase "skilfully written with the rhymes barely noticeable" caught my eye. It's common to think that the artfulness is best hidden - it's the effect that matters. When rhyming words are chosen at the expense of meaning, the rhymes will stand out. But it's ok when the rhymes in "Do not go gently" stand out, because nothing is sacrificed, I guess.

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