As presented in my bio and in another blog post, I posit the idea of one’s life being less of a jumbled blend of ideas and beliefs, and more of a organized, thoughtful essay–or even better, as a poem.

Yet what distinguishes a poem from other texts–from a well-written work of prose, for example? What defines “success” for a poem; what makes one more beautiful than the other? Is there a way to determine where its weaknesses and strengths are, and to tell at which point the poem fails?

In answering such inquiries, I draw from thoughts from Richard P. Gabriel and this presentation of his, and seek to apply such concepts to the living of a life.

First, poetic failure is defined in two ways:

  • “That which makes a poem less whole, less fully alive than it could be” – A fault, in other words, within the poem that takes away from itself or withholds it from its fullest potential.
  • “That which causes the reader to put the poem aside or to experience it on fewer than all the levels on which it was intended to be experienced” – This I take as the clarity and approachability of a piece of work. Is it so shallow in its presentation of thought that nothing new is gained but a boring taste in the back of one’s throat? Or perhaps the thread of emotion is so convoluted, and its presentation so confusing, that one gives up on understanding it.

As such, we often take the following steps to (hopefully) remove as many of such impurities in our poems as possible:

  • Find readers who have a more objective, “fresh” perspective on our work than we do, or put the poem aside to read later
  • Use your intuition as you make changes and edit out words that do not “fit the vibe”
  • Examine craft elements (Am I following the abac or abab rhyming scheme consistently?)

And so on. Making sense so far? If you have written poetry before, you are probably familiar with most, if not all, of such steps.

Gabriel argues for another approach to understanding, appreciating, and revising poetry, however–one that I find quite fitting to how a life should be lived.

His steps are simple–there are only two:

  • Define poetry rigorously and precisely
  • Use the details of that definition to analyze the poem for both strengths and weaknesses

Of course, such steps are not as clearcut as we would like them to be. But after some twists and turns around conventional definitions of poetry, we arrive at the following statement:

A poem is a beautiful text.

What is beauty?

Beauty = aesthetics (subjective) + poetic order (objective)

Poetic order, according to Gabriel, reveals why a poem is experienced as whole and alive. As such, a poem can be beautiful with any aesthetic, but it cannot be lovely without order–at best, with only poetic order the “poem” becomes a well-written and ugly piece of text.

What is poetic order then?

That…is a good question.

Poetic order, and how we could live it out both in our writing and in our living, is something I would be exploring in a series of blog posts following this one.

(I initially intended this to be a one-off essay; but as I was fleshing out the arguments and lines of thought, I discovered that it would be supremely long and convoluted by the end of our examination of Gabriel’s ideas, not to say my own. I suppose both of us must be patient with ourselves then. 😉

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