Poetic Grammar: Part II
Literary Rules vs. Artistic Concepts
Literature has a vast history of conflicts between literary rules and artistic concepts. The conflict between the literary rules of proper grammar and the artistic concepts of poetry predates the Renaissance. An epic battle instigated by a single question. Should grammatical and other literary rules apply to poetry as they do to every other form of writing? It appears to be a simple yes or no question which should have been definitively answered ages ago. Yet, it is still the most passionately debated subject in poetry.
Large portions of the literary and academic communities adamantly insist that grammatical rules apply to all forms of writing without exception. The basis for their argument is that proper grammar is vital for maintaining a civilized society. They argue that the reason we begin learning proper grammar as early as elementary school is because it is essential for effective intelligent communication in both the spoken and written word.
On the opposite side of this dispute, many poets and others in the artistic community, are adamantly against the mere suggestion that poetry should be subject to any rules whatsoever. The basis for their argument is that poetry is an art form so should, therefore, be exempt from literary rules. They believe that art should never be restricted by rules nor societal boundaries. They argue on the premise of artistic freedom for creative self-expression.
Then, as in all conflicts, there are the moderates. Those who prefer the middle ground. A majority of poets adamantly insist that writing poetry is deeply personal, therefore, every poet should be able to decide for them self whether or not to employ proper grammar in their works. They too cite artistic freedom and creative self-expression. According to them, a poet’s use or misuse of the English language should be governed solely by the message they wish to convey and their personal poetic style. I happen to agree.
Each of these convictions has many valid and compelling arguments to back them up. Still, it would be wise to examine the main advantages and disadvantages of ensuring that poetry is grammatically correct before choosing one side or another.
There are many substantial advantages to implementing grammatical and other literary rules in poetry. The most substantial is credibility. Every writer needs credibility regardless of niche. Knowledge and implementation of grammatical rules is highly respected. Sloppy usage of the English language is frowned upon in formal literary, academic, and professional arenas. The use of proper grammar is also acknowledged as being an accurate indicator of intelligence, education, and even class. The poet who abides by grammatical rules displays proficiency in other forms of written and spoken communication as well as a respect for literary tradition. Both attributes are greatly valued. Such credibility can open many doors for the career-minded poet.
We must also consider the disadvantages to officially declaring poetry subject to grammatical rules. The most obvious of which is the challenges presented by a poem’s structure. (Part III of this series delves into this issue). Aside from structural challenges, forcing the rules of proper grammar upon poetry may have artistic consequences. A poet’s creativity may be hindered in three very substantial ways:
1.) Rules are restrictive by nature. Having to adhere to grammatical rules places restrictions on how a poet may use the English language. The subtle manipulation of language in various ways is exceedingly effective for conveying and enhancing a poem’s message, underlying tone, and overall emotion. Imposing rules removes poetic license and the use of creative literary devices from the poet’s desk, so to speak.
2.) During the writing process, a poet’s focus needs to be on presenting the poem’s content in the most creative and inspiring way possible. A poet’s job is to paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind and evoke emotion in the reader’s heart. by forcing a poet to focus on presenting the poem’s content in a way that is grammatically correct poetry’s artistic value is greatly diminished.
3.) During the editing process, a poet’s main focus may be on checking for grammatical errors which may cause the poet to overlook or disregard creative improvements which can be made to the poem. Being grammatically correct ends up taking precedence of the creative aspects of poetry.
Now, I’m not saying that poetry can’t be bother creative and grammatically correct. Nor am I saying that a poet can’t equally focus on both the technical and artistic aspects of poetry writing. However, I am saying that proper grammar might not be the best way to go for the more artistic-minded poet. Also, poetry is quite unique. It is not as conducive to literary rules as are other forms of writing.
There are many more advantages and disadvantages to the implementation of grammatical rules in poetry. These are just the ones which, I feel, require the most consideration. Literature loves an epic battle both on and off the page. The conflict between the literary rules of proper grammar and the artistic concepts of poetry will, most likely, never come to a resolution. For now, each poet must answer the question of poetic grammar for them self. It is a crucial factor in a poet’s development of their own unique poetic style. Part III is all about style, so grab some swag and read on.
FUN POETRY FACT: Shakespeare ended sentences with prepositions.
FUN GRAMMAR FACT: The period only came into existence in the fourth century.