“Poetry, I feel, is a tyrannical discipline. You’ve got to go so far so fast in such a small space; you’ve got to burn away all the peripherals.” — Sylvia Plath
Poetry has always, and will continue doing I hope, held a special potency. In what are often very short spaces, we are shown both wonderfully colourful and deeply affected characters, we see the true beauty of nature without having to look out of the window and we hear affirmations when we need them the most. We also see destruction, grief and worlds we don’t recognise. Poems are creations of true imagination and we can use them for a vast spectrum of emotions, occasions, education; the list goes on. As cliché as it may seem, I have always wanted to write a novel. I loved and love books, I love stories and genuinely attach to characters so much that I mourn them when the story is over. It wasn’t until the second year of my undergraduate course that I discovered poetry – and really, the sheer power of it. I was so taken in by it and I continue to be amazed by stellar poems as time goes on.
In some ways, the power is indescribable. As Sylvia Plath quite rightly said, you do go so far, so fast. Some poems are gentle and unobtrusive, but hold such impact while some poems hit you in the face and zoom off into the distance before you even have chance to catch your breath. I feel that the force of poetry comes from the freedom of it. Of course, there is form and structure to poetry, but there is a liberation that I have yet to feel with other genres of writing. I’m not the first to make this comparison and won’t be the last, but the page is akin to a blank canvas, which you paint with the words and then lines and then a poem forms. Don Paterson said that if you can remember a poem then you can possess it wholly. A poem is like art and unlike a novel or a play which you can remember the feeling, characters or certain sections, you can often remember the words and you can visualise the poem, and then you posses that in memory, holding it dearly.
In my own experience people have, when talking to me about my own poetry, explained that they don’t read poetry nor do they entirely ‘get’ poetry. I understand this, poetry is not for everyone, as much as I would like it to be. The way I respond to people when this conversation arises is that, poetry doesn’t have to mean Shakespearean love sonnets or Wordsworth marvelling about nature, nor does it have to be deeply personal like Plath. It can be whatever you want it to be, in whatever form you wish. For me, it was a therapeutic experience to express my journey through motherhood, as much as it was an instrument to exorcise demons from my past and to celebrate joy in my present. Whatever poetry means to a person, the power of it is unmoving. It connects people together, allows them to reflect on life and themselves, and, helps us to view the world in so many brilliant different ways.
Kayleigh Campbell is a PhD Researcher at Huddersfield University. She was the 2019 winner of the Gloucestershire Poetry Society competition and most recently her work featured in Butcher’s Dog Issue 12. Her pamphlet Keepsake is available from Maytree Press.