If you’ve ever studied poetry or creative writing, you’ve most likely come across the phrase Ars Poetica. And if you’re anything like me, the very whiff of Latin, its archaism and stuffy classroom memories of monotonous rote learning (porto, portas, portat…), will have the tendency to impose one of the following effects on you: sleepiness, frustration, or disinterest all together. But let us be brave and broach this subject – if only briefly. Follow me, if you will.
Ars Poetica, strictly translated, could read as ‘the technique/method of the poet’, though is more widely understood and referred to as ‘the art of poetry’. Coined back in the good old years (circa 20BC) by folks like Horace et. al, and resurfacing with unalloyed obsession by Renaissance humanists, it came to be the subject matter: what is ‘good poetry’. But of course, it didn’t end with the Renaissance; the dialogue continued with the Romantics and through the Victorian era, each with their own dos and don’ts, and pretty well stumbled, exhausted, into the 20th century, falling at the feet of the giant, Post-modernism. If you want to see an excellent illustration of what Post-modernism did to the notion of Ars Poetica, watch the memorable scene from Dead Poets Society, when that delightful preface, ‘Understanding Poetry’, written by a certain Dr. J. Evans Pritchard (Ph.D.), gets blissfully torn to shreds. I must say, I hold somewhat reserved sentiments towards the whole idea of Post-modernism (whatever it really is); however, that aside, one of the better things, I think, that Post-modernism has achieved (if we can even say that), is that there no longer exists a collective conscience that rigidly defines what is or isn’t a good poem, as the scene from Dead Poets Society so aptly proclaims.
And so now Ars Poetica has come to mean something quite different – and far more agreeable, too. Owing to the fact that Horace’s Ars Poetica was a treatise concerning the nature of poetry, that is, a piece of writing about writing, it has come to categorize poetry written about poetry. Rather like, in part, the poem from my previous blog entry. And here is another example I penned a couple of years ago, entitled
Gripped in winter’s restlessness
for onward passage,
impatient with anticipation,
like a lover
waiting for a train.
The relief of arrival;
the penning of a pending poem.