A Creativist Theory of Poetry

Creativism can be used to better understand the process of writing poetry.

Creativism starts with the premise that all aspects of life can be seen in terms of some creative process. My particular form of creativism proposes that creative process is the product of a form of truth conjoined with a form of love. The truth, which initially is just potential, is given effect – made real – by a “coming together” which, for want of a better term, we might call love. At bottom there is yet another element, which is the mysterious urge to create. This impulse is evident in the universe as a whole, which is constantly evolving, constantly reinventing itself, and it is equally evident in micro instances of creativity – such as poetry.

True poetry begins with emotion or feeling, the urge to express oneself in a certain way, though language. Sometimes this feeling will be tied to something very precise, like a historical event, an example being the wreck of the SS Deutschland (which led to a famous poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins). At other times it might be something more vague, such as the feeling of disconnect that led to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. At any rate, there is a clear parallel between this idea of the origin of poetry and the emanationist concept of the origin of the universe, whereby the universe came into being as the necessary giving effect to some mysterious principle or urge to “become.”

The second key element in the process is the imagery. While imagery in the sense of metaphor or simile has not always been regarded as important in poetry, the fact is that poetry for the most part presents something as like something else. The “something else” conveys information which captures, one might say symbolically, the essence of the poet’s vision. A well-known example can be found in Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism, where he wrote “A little learning is a dang'rous thing;/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.” This likens learning or knowledge to the spring which, in Greek mythology, gave life and refreshment and energy to the Muses. In this metaphor, Pope conveys in a very direct and immediate and forceful way the effect that learning can have on a person. There is a compelling and revealing truth in the likening of learning to this piece of classical antiquity.

A poem can also convey meaning through a story or set of imagery, where gives more scope for imagination. The Waste Land is rich in examples, from whole landscapes (“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stony rubbish …”) to narratives (“The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights/ her stove, and lays out food in tins …”). Wrapped around these devices, or maybe an alternative to these devices, there is an argument of some kind, such as the polemic running throughout An Essay on Criticism. In the area around the Pierian Spring image, the argument is that learning only a little can mislead us into thinking we know a lot. This may be less ostensibly "poetic", but it still constitutes a relationship between one set of things and another set of things. The first is the poet's overall idea and the second is the particular sequence of concepts which the poet has chosen to express that idea: the premises, the rhetoric, the questions asked and conclusions drawn. These are the bones or framework of the poem which underlie its language.

The link between one thing and another is a form of truth. It is truth in poetry that learning is like a draught from the Pierian Spring; likewise it is truth in poetry that spiritual desolation is like a somewhat deprived typist who more or less willingly prepares for her own seduction. Imagery, narrative, argument – whatever the poet chooses as the main macro elements for communication – these are the constituents of poetic truth. To use the metaphor I employed above, they are the bones of a poem. Self-evidently, a poem will be nothing unless it also has flesh to cover these bones, and this is where language comes in. In creativist terms, language is the love in poetry. When I say language I mean the actual words chosen, the order of these words, their music, their rhymes and rhythms and onomatopoeias and alliterations and so on. This is poetry at the micro level of analysis, but it is every bit as important as the macro level.

To sum up, the writing of poetry is in miniature an act like the origin and evolution of the whole universe, beginning with the idea, the vision. There is a poetic vision or truth which can only come to fruition when it comes into contact with language. It is the marriage between poetic vision and language which is the final factor, the love factor, in the creativist triad of truth, love and creative process. The happy outcome is that special form of literary creativity which we call poetry. And ultimately, though these things can be dissected through literary analysis, they also stand as one indissoluble whole, just as the whole of creation stands as one indissoluble whole. To borrow one of the most compelling lines of poetry from the Bible (John 1:1): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Poetry begins with the urge to create, just as the universe itself, arguably, began with and continues with the urge to create. The poet has a vision which is evident in different forms, according to the literary genre chosen. The primary architecture of the poem is the argument or narrative or imagery which in the poet’s mind perfectly encapsulates his or her vision. This is where we find poetic truth. Almost magically, it seems, this truth is expressed through a meeting of ideas and specific forms of language – particular words, rhythms, rhymes and so on. It is here that we find the love that resides in poetry, the love of language’s ability to give voice to ideas.