02 February 2010
Poetry & Transformation
As a linguistic unit, the poem is unique in its movement toward being something else. Whether the poem be narrative or lyrical (or even visual), it points toward something else—an experience, a memory, or a problem. Even a poem that interrogates language points elsewhere. The rub, however, is that in this metaphorical quality of transformation, the poem remains essentially itself. T.S. Eliot may lead us down the backstreets of London, but “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” remains exactly what it is—a poem, a linguistic unit. As Yusef Komunyakaa has observed, a poem is a metaphor for itself. It transforms and shifts; but it remains a poem just the same. And in this paradox lies the very nature of poetry—by changing, the poem becomes itself. A poem can move beyond its subject matter and address large, sometimes universal concerns. At the same time, the poem remains the words on the page, filtered (of course) through a reader’s perceptions. The crux is that the poem is both at the same time.