The Stuff of Talk

by Scott Oury

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Posted by ScottOury
I’ve posted a poem a week for a few years on my Instagram ( & Facebook pages, but without saying anything about what makes poetry special as a form. So here’s a start.

Of all the written forms of language, poetry communicates faster and more deeply—to everyone, not just the clever, the smart, the highly educated, the members of the club—show your membership at the door.

I’ve tested that out on Facebook for two years and found that (as we used to say) persons from “all walks of life” liked the poems. That should have been no surprise.

For around three-thousand years poetry has been one of the most cherished forms of writing, speaking to us in a compact form—which comes from our common talk. Talk contains poetic qualities: tone, rhythm and accent, intensity, pitch, and words that sound like a particular person, and mimic what’s being described. Poems are made from the stuff of talk.

When emotion is strong, poetic language may come with a rush of words: a woman describes the nursing home where she worked:

Ninety-pound people who are wrinkled with age, lying on their sides and perhaps half of the bed, in that position for hours and sometimes days. Some of them weeping softly to themselves, others lying with such apathy. I am full of disgust. Lethargic and weak, fearing everyone they meet. My stomach just churns.

A wife describes the relationship with her husband:

He can say the wrong thing at the wrong time, the wrong thing at the right time, and the right thing at the wrong time. But worse than any of these is when he says nothing at all.

A dramatic monologue catches moments at a bar:

“And what can I get for you? No honey, I’m not married. Why do you ask?” I throw a kiss to an incoming regular. “No baby, that kiss was not for you.”. . . . I clear dirty dishes from the tables as I zoom by. Take refill orders, Empty more ashtrays. Carly Simon now. I sing along as I light more cigarettes. “I have a great voice? Thank you.”

A description captures the full sense of a foreign country:

I can smell the sweet fragrance of orchids flourishing nearby. An old woman strolls by with a basket of fruit on her head. A group of boys playing with a soccer ball pass by. And across the road a young girl hangs out her wash. The sun has turned into a bright, orange ball sending a blizzard of colors across the sky. I watch as it slowly sinks behind the rich, green mountains. Settling back into my rocking chair and turning to my husband I say, “So this is Africa.”

What makes a poem (any poetic writing) different from talk? Talk doesn’t give the mind much time to think, to find the word or phrase that’s just right for the idea developing. But writing, because it’s slow compared to talk, allows the mind a moment or more to scan its dictionary for the word (or phrase) that helps to complete the idea unfolding, as in the previous writings, and in this completion of a student writing, which struggles to match a made up—and a real—boyfriend.

I thought I could make You do as I want, flatter Me the right way, make Me a happy person—you’re a person . . . those qualities I left out when I formed You.

Poetic language saturates conversation, and gives us written forms especially fit to our deep concerns.

Always has.

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