My Poetics [#5]
edited: Monday, February 09, 2004
By john k zimmerman
Posted: Tuesday, February 03, 2004
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As a Poet and a Preacher you might think that I like Relilgious Poetry. Generally speaking I find that it sucks. Here's why:
Religious poetry has three main faults:
--- It is preachy. By being so it is off putting distancing the writer from the audience. God is God and poets are poets, and it is the wise poet who knows the difference! (Now, if I could just get the message thru to preachers...)
--- It uses the language of theological discourse rather than the language of poetry. Theological language argues, reasons, defines. It is precise and unambiguous. Poetic language, on the other hand, tells a story, by evoking feelings through a plethora of images; it is ambiguous, and imprecise. Theological language simply makes bad poetry.
--- It is shallow. Religious Poetry tends to make unreflective use of standard religious language giving no insight into the heart of God or Humanity. Words like “god”, “lord”, "grace”, “salvation” have lost all meaning, or rather their rich and resonant meaning is imprisoned within a shell of common use and abuse. Religious Poetry tends to rely on these clichés, adding nothing to the readers’ understanding.
What advice do I have for those who would write Religious Poetry?
Seeing as I have not taken my own advice, on occasion, here are some suggestions ---
1. Do not preach. Identify with your reader and focus on what you share, your common humanity.
2. Use poetic language and use it poetically.
3. Throw out the standard terms; find fresh ways to convey their meanings.
What I expect from the writer of religious poetry? The same that I expect from any poet worthy of the name: that they confront their topic boldly, and show me the Matter beyond the matter. The God beyond God. That isn’t easy and it certainly is not safe, but that’s not what poets are about . . . being safe