A poem is not an explanation. Nor it is an array of rhythmic sounding words. A poem is spontaneous but all spontaneous poems need not be good poems either. A good poem evokes in the reader a picture much larger than what is contained in the mere words of the poem. A good poem should necessarily be crisp and say less but it always kindles an inner space in the reader that is vastly larger than the poem itself. Like a good camera, a good poem demands your effort to understand it. Once you understand the camera it lets you take good pictures but it is still a process towards perfection. Same way, taking the effort to appreciate how a good poem unfurls itself is important if one ever hopes to write good poems.
Like a good photograph, a good poem evokes imagination. A good poem does not explain, it does not shout, it does not even try overtly to impress or win applause.
A good poem is not a destination, it is way-pointer to the reader to greater vistas.
I will give a couple examples:
சிறகிலிருந்து பிரிந்த இறகொன்று
காற்றின் தீராத பக்கங்களில்
தன் வாழ்வை எழுதிச்செல்கிறது
Now take some time absorb this poem. You can visualize this in your photographic eyes. The poet has probably seen just a falling feather floating away in the air, but see how it has come out in his words. When you read this poem, dwell on each of the line and think whether it talks only about a falling feather or points to something much larger than that. When you just read these three simple lines, it immediately leaves a sadness in you- it is a subtle sadness. We have all seen such feathers in our families that have fallen down writing their life in the eternal air of our world, no? A good poem is a magic… Read this one:
உருவாய் அருவாய் உளதாய் இலதாய்
மருவாய் மலராய் மணியாய் ஒளியாய்
கருவாய் உயிராய் கதியாய் விதியாய்
குருவாய் வருவாய் அருள்வாய் குகனே.
See how the juxtaposition is used to explain the endlessness of god. See how one is existential and another one is virtual. As you try to understand it more, it leads you into inner truths contained in Shaiva Siddhantha and therefrom into our deeper Vedantic roots.
A good poem is a transcendental experience. Like a beautiful scene you saw in a movie it demands you to again and again revisit it and re-view it in a new perspective.
A good poem takes up a seemingly ordinary experience and makes it sublime. Shakepeare’s Sonnet on Love is one such example:
It is the star to every wandering bark
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come
He says Love is like a North Star (that guides and gives hope) to a wandering (meaning lost) bark (meaning boat). Does the boat know the worth of the north star? No, but it looks up to the star to find its destination (after it reaches the shore the boat does not need the star but what is the worth of a boat itself once it has reached the shore). Think about the use of the phrase “bending sickle”. These lines should be read as “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks come within the bending sickle’s’ compass”. Now dwell on this metaphor that Time is a Sickle. What does it harvest? It harvests the years, it harvests the age, it harvests beauty (rosy lips and cheeks) but look, Love is still beyond the reach of this sickle’s compass. (And he calls these as time’s fool, why?).
A good poem expands your perspective, holds your hand and helps you transcend yourself into something larger.
Even good poets write only a few good poems in their whole life. It is to write those few good poems that they keep up their poetic practice. And to write good poems, one should be continuously intimate with good poems and invest in the time needed to understand and appreciate the good poems. Just like one who wants to take good photos would invest in a good camera and would take the time to understand its workings. Then and then only a good camera or a good poem will uncover its hidden path to us and lead us towards taking good photographs or writing good poems.
If you are interested to write good poems, keep up your practice of writing poems but do also read good poems- both new and old from any language you know. Tamil is a treasure house of good poems. Unfortunately a poorly visited treasure house.