When you think of poetry, your mind might go to the classics. Perhaps to Homer’s The Odyssey or to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales — both epic stories told in meter and reflected in the tropes of modern storytelling still used today.
Or maybe when you think of poetry your mind travels to the sonnets of Shakespeare and the religiosity of Donne’s work.
Perhaps you are like many who only recently discovered the beauty of poetry on Instagram, seeing the blaring white background of a poem in a picture, the black typewritten words of Rupi Kaur or Nikita Gill sitting on the screen.
Poetry has always provoked emotion. It pricks at the corners of our minds that long to feel. It wakes up sentiments in our hearts that have long been hiding under a pillow, attempting to ignore the alarm clock screeching to wake them up.
But what makes poetry work this way?
What makes ancient Italian sonnets as heart wringing as modern free verse? What brings readers back again to read the words of Emily Dickinson for the one hundredth time and elicits an audible gasp when hearing spoken word read aloud?
As the poetry editor of borrowed solace: a journal of literary ramblings, I have read a lot of poems. Each reading period, we receive hundreds of unsolicited poetry submissions for consideration. Much of the poetry is good. It fits the form of what a poem should be and uses intricate language, leaning on literary devices to create a vivid image. But not all of the poems we receive are great — we have about a 5% acceptance rate when all is said and done (which is quite high considering how few prose pieces are accepted.)
So what catapults a poem from the slush pile to the accepted pile with a note slapped on the side it’s a favorite of the bunch?
More often than not it’s what isn’t said.
With poetry, less is more.
Being able to evoke strong images and bring out even the most buried of emotions in the reader is a feature that I believe poetry excels at. That blaring white background is where the real work in poetry takes place. There’s more reading between the lines than ever in a…