The blogger respectfully asks that you read this post out loud.
Heavenly Mother/Father Poet Above Us, Source of All Our Contemplations,
Having roamed the streets of Salerno after midnight with my fellow poets,
speaking our verses under a June moon, I came to these eternal questions:
What is this thing called poetry and what distinguishes it from spoken word?
What distinguishes it from song?
As fast as the questions came, answers quickly followed:
1) Nothing, my child and 2) Nothing, but song adds melody to lyrics.
Although I have not done an exhaustive study on these matters,
I do have some shreds of evidence that lead me to the conclusion that poetry,
spoken word, and song are all manifestations of the same phenomenon, that is,
the oral tradition. Here, for your consideration:
ONE: A while back, I heard the poets Anne Waldman and John Giorno at the 30th anniversary of Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Both poets spoke all their poems from memory. At the time I did not think “spoken word.” I only knew the poets’ words were riveting and I vowed to make mine more like them.
TWO: Fellow conference-goer, poet from Malaysia Elaine Foster, has this to say about the matter: “Poetry has always had an oratory nature. Poetry was first and foremost an oral tradition….There is no difference between spoken word and poetry in terms of actually being poetry. It is all poetry.”
(and the snapping of fingers)*
THREE: My 17-year-old son plays guitar, drums, and piano. You could say he is musically oriented. He often sends me song lyrics by bands he admires because he knows I will find them interesting. He intuitively recognizes that song lyrics are poetry.
Yes, and yes again!
(Snap snap snap)
FOUR: Did you ever notice how easy it is to remember the words to a song? Do you know why this is?
I repeat, borrowing a method from the tradition of which I speak,
poetry, spoken word, and song are all manifestations of the same phenomenon,
that is, the oral tradition.
The oral tradition goes way back, as you know. It is the fertile ground out of which all storytelling and poetry have grown, grow now, and will continue to grow in the coming generations.
The instinct to speak, to be heard, to pass wisdom from one mind to the next,
to share the past so that we can learn from it in the present and thus make a better future;
all this is the impetus behind our human inclination to partake of the oral tradition. (snap snap snap)
Human beings live to make meaning, and while some prefer to do this by creating images
(they are called artists), a large sector of the human race engages in making meaning
by using words. These are the writers, sometimes called poets.
When metaphor, rhyme, rhythm, word choice, repetition, intonation, and gesture get involved in this telling, it becomes poetry.
It is that simple.
Then, at the extreme prose end of 21st century manifestations of the oral tradition we find radio podcasts (This American Life, Serial, and StoryCorps) and the phenomenon known as The Moth.
So, who put the oral in oral tradition?
We did. Human beings. With our mouths, vocal chords, tongues, teeth, lips, and voices. Don’t forget our brains and our hearts. The oral tradition is the most basic element of our humanity.
Poetry is not a mystery nor should it be wrapped in rarified language that separates it from the language of daily life.
Poetry is everywhere, we just need to recognize it as such and say it, sing it, share it, and sometimes, even cry it out loud for everyone to hear.
This is what I learned with the poets in Salerno and to them I say:
I love you
* Finger snapping at poetry readings began in the late 1950s in New York in the era of the Beat poets at the venue, The Gaslight. “The Gaslight was weird then because there were air shafts up to the apartments and the windows of the Gaslight would open into the air shafts, so when people would applaud, the neighbors would get disturbed and call the police. So then the audience couldn't applaud; they had to snap their fingers instead.” From Quora, an online community that answers all your burning questions about pretty much everything.