The Literary Chameleon

Poetry is written in the human mind, and is read by the human conscience.  They comprise the metaphysical parallel universe lingering within us all. In the mind rests the conformist logic of everyday life, the unifying factors of all that defines the so-called Human Condition; the common denominators of our essential state of being; the need to eat, sleep, work, talk, listen, age, and ultimately die.  It’s in the realm of this logic that the seeds of poetry are sown. Poems are the by-product of everyday life, that is, in the mind of the poet. When a poem is completed, cut adrift and released to the readership, it is broken up, dissipated, and no longer is it an instrument of universality. A reader of a poem applies his or her own senses and instincts to it, and it becomes a by-product of an individual conscience.  The degree of which a person’s conscience is dictating their moods and actions will influence the emotional effect a poem has at the time of reading. Those moods and actions are in a constant state of flux, meaning the emotional effect of a poem is not concrete. Take The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, a poem that may purely haunt on any given day, with no academic comprehension taken from it whatsoever, while it may be coldly clinical on another day; no sense of haunting or prophecy or post-war context, only a portrait of one scholar’s template of worldly awareness, delivered as only one who’s lived in both the east and west of the world can deliver.  


Poetry is without a doubt the most difficult form of literature to define.  Novels and plays are easy to define. The former revolve around a sequence of events that gel to form a plot, the latter revolve around the characters that gel to form a plot, with the primary elements of both acting as the supportive vehicle of the other in comparison.  Poetry may present characters, may present plots, but more often than not, presents isolated elements of existence, in which the reader must dive into in the hopes of discovering his or her own context within the words laid out before them.  Words, words, words, Hamlet said, for how else is there to define that which he was reading, or the meaning behind them?  Centuries later, after the language’s greatest composer repeated that one word three times, an AM-radio-oriented pop group named the Bee-Gees shed light on the question:  It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.  More than any other literary genre, poetry, or its sister genre, musical lyrics, are words and nothing more, yet there is more meaning in those words on a metaphysical level than any other form of literature there is.  Poetry is weird like that.  

To a modern audience, say the last generation or two, song lyrics have usurped classical poetry as the ultimate genre of the human’s parallel universe.  Progressive rock in particular offers a menu of abstruse poetry spread out over neo-classical musical arrangements, Moog synthesizers standing in where orchestras once fit the bill.  Pink Floyd in particular drew a line in the sand between music as a vehicle for dancing and a vehicle for sitting down and taking in the substance of what they were talking about. It is no coincidence that Dark Side Of The Moon spent an unprecedented fifteen years on Billboard’s Top-200 chart.  Here was an album that set out to demonstrate that everyday life can be a tool for madness, an album that laid out the dangerous consequences of the human mind and conscience becoming too chummy with each other.  Time may fly when you’re having fun, but it also makes you older, shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.   A few years later, a bi-gender group named Fleetwood Mac drove themselves into a state of madness by ignoring the notion that they could be artists and lovers at the same time.  Art is born in the mind; love is born in the conscience. Art is born as an individual inclination, a concrete personal decision; love is an emotion, a devotion to another, and emotions are slaves to the conscience, which are not concrete.  A devotion to another, especially one to which whom one shares their mind, never mind their heart, is a proposition doomed to risk. But it made for great entertainment, because we love dichotomies as humans. We get off on dissension. Poetry brings us closer to that dissension than any other form of literature, and so it will survive, be it in journals or music or whatever.  The vehicle for its delivery may not always be satisfactory, but the words will serve their purpose.

Steven Fortune

Steven Fortune is a resident of Sydney, Nova Scotia (Canada) and a graduate of Acadia University (English Literature/History) where he served as Editor-In-Chief of the Arts Faculty journal. He's released five poetry collections to date, has edited several works by others for his publisher, and has also appeared on CBC Radio, while his work has been featured and read on several radio programs. He also aspires to write for the stage and is currently working on his first play.


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