Sharon Gannon: What is Poetry?

Working with sound is what poets do: using language, yes, but not in the conventional way of trying to say something about anything. Everyone knows that you can’t truly describe anything merely by talking about it. Whatever you say will at best be only your own view of it at a particular moment, and reality is more than your immediate perception of the sequence of moments that create time. But nonetheless something essential about how things and feelings come about can be revealed through sound, more so than through sight, smell, taste or even touch. All that appears as physical matter derives its source from the non-physical realm of spirit and sound comprises that world of spirit. 

Perhaps poetry is like arranging flowers of sound. By moving sound shapes in particular ways one can create a sensual atmosphere, in the process causing oneself, and perhaps the listener/reader, to stumble upon or at least approach the pulse of being, if only for a moment. This awakening of the senses brings about insight, and insight is where a poet’s passion lies. Insight, not love, is the greatest power of the heart. Without insight there can be no realization of love, because the inclusiveness of love depends on the power of insight. Through insight connections are made; you “connect the dots” and then dis-ease and separation can dissolve. But insight is graceful; it cannot be made to happen. Nevertheless, there are things you can do to facilitate the arising of insight. Harmonizing with beauty is one of those things. The elements of beauty are contained in poetry because to succeed a poem must align itself with beauty, which is the essential power of Mother Nature. She is the matrix of being, and she manifests beautifully through music and meter. 

In poetry, it is not enough to just say something or to express what is on your mind or even what you think is in your heart. A poem must be more vital. It must strip you bare and it must not be elitist. It should facilitate the arising of insight in the reader/listener, and it doesn’t have to speak in a mundane language that everyone can readily understand, because to understand implies that you are separated; you are “standing under.” Understanding belongs to the realm of the intellect and intellectual, rational comprehension is not the goal of poetry.


Sharon Gannon
--excerpted from an essay, “What is Poetry?” 
co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga, Musician, Artist, Author, and Activist.