Abstractions in Poetry: When and Why

Most people who read poetry are turned off by the now academic approach to poetics, mainly literary schools, literary magazines specializing in academia, and abstractions in modern poetry. Yet, what is an abstraction? Or, rather, when should there be abstractions? In the art of metaphor, love is a primary object of descriptive language. Yet, love, in itself, is an abstract idea. It is a broad term and all encompassing in its use. This raises the question, how do I use an abstract idea in such a concrete object as a poem? Poems thrive on the language of comparison. Comparing love to an arrow (such as in Anis Mojgani’s poem “Milos”) is such a use:

when the hangman of morrow comes to hang the sun in its daily execution


we are apples,

our love is an arrow.

I am unbuttoning my shirt and painting a circle over my heart


just shoot straight

This is a metaphor that takes concrete examples to describe an abstract ideal. It is the power of language to describe the indescribable, especially in poetry. When to use an abstraction? When you need to describe a very broad idea; if this is the case, you would use concrete symbols in language to. Yet, why? Why do we, as poets, use abstractions? This, I believe, is because the world is full of them and they need to be described. They need to be cataloged, in more ways than one. Why is not so much a reason or a particular question that needs answering. Like religion, that answers why, and like science that answers how, poetry answers another question: the question of being and presence. Why are we here to live our lives in a pointless and daunting universe (so it seems). Poetry is that awkward moment between birth and death. Everything that is essential to life, in all its abstraction, is worth the quality of poetry. Concreteness is a genuine quality of poetry. Thus, give those abstractions a definition; give them lines to be seen; give them a body to use in order to communicate.

Therefore, write. Be beautiful. Concrete the abstract. Love. And above all, live. 



One comment on “Abstractions in Poetry: When and Why

  1. Thank you for sharing this concise and informative article. It’s refreshing to see someone open-minded to the potential for abstractions in poetry in an era when everyone is usually vehemently opposed to them. It’s just a case of learning when you can get away with it!
    I have shared the link to this with my peers at Forage Poetry Forum as I feel it might inspire some interesting discussion!

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