Definitions of poetry are almost as numerous as poems, but one definition seems to have particular resonance when considering poems written about catastrophic events like the September 11 terrorist attacks. The poet Edwin Arlington Robinson defined poetry as “language that tells us, through a more or less emotional reaction, something that can not be said.”
Keep this definition in mind as you explore poetry in the collection. One poem from the collection is reproduced below. You can locate other poems by searching the collection using poem as the search term. Note that one poem is read aloud by the poet, Dick Stahl; his poem can be found at the five-minute mark in his interview. You may also want to read the song lyrics written by Cletus Kennelly.
Penn Station Yesterday
By Ethel Lebenkoff
A stranger-- well dressed woman cries out to me 'why doesn't the national guard have guns?'
(Hoping that guns will make us safer)
GUNS make us SAFE?
How will they know? Who is and who is not
Could the same woman who spoke to me be herself a brilliant terrorist?
Can the man with the yarmulke be a terrorist?
Are the two coffee skinned boys sitting next to me at the lecture about the New York
Return to normalcy
That is not possible
Normalcy is in the process of transformation
We can just gesture as we did in the past
And those of us who frolicked in freedom
will always remember
Unable to explain
Use the following questions to guide your analysis of the poems you have selected:
- Highlight language in the poems that you find beautiful or expressive. What about the language appeals to you?
- What evidence do you find that poetry communicates through “a more or less emotional reaction”? What emotions are evoked? How do the language, rhythm, or structure of the poem evoke emotions?
- Do you think that the poems convey “something that can not be said”? Based on your analysis of the poems, how might you explain this phrase to someone who is unfamiliar with poetry?
- Considering your answers to the above questions, has Edwin Arlington Robinson provided a valuable definition of the word poetry? Explain your answer.