Home > 6. Ars Poetica: creating & surviving poetry, B. The Living Artifact > Idiolects, Poetry, And Why You Need Time Off for Writing

Idiolects, Poetry, And Why You Need Time Off for Writing



This is a vast topic. The subject of this post is nothing less than the genius of the human spirit: our need to compose poetry.

Let’s put it another way: poetry is what makes us human. You heard me right: the silly little past-time of love-besotted teenagers and ivory-tower types looking at a pile of eviction notices on their desk is actually something that everyone needs to know if they are to master the intricacies of living a happy life.

Here’s why:

To see how this might be, we should remember the distinction the Rag Tree has made in a previous post between the first mind and rational mind. The first mind is the mind that we inherited from the animals and is capable of intuition, the wordless understanding of what is happening in our immediate surroundings. The rational mind is capable of reason and deduction, the manipulation of abstract concepts and ideas to solve generalized problems.

Unfortunately, intuition doesn’t have the best reputation; we associate it with guessing—that is, making deductions without enough information, or with hard-wired responses acquired in childhood. But in producing a mute feeling, intuition often winnows out the background to arrive at the most important facts of our surrounding—Gosh, it’s a warm night, but what about the shadow that’s moving over there?

The world is music. One need only listen to trees rustling in a breeze or watch deer in a field to know this. Of course, individual events and moments in nature can be highly distressing, but every action is intricately bound to all the rest. It is this balanced music that the intuition listens to.

Being human means harmonizing the rational and first minds—this harmonization is poetry. That is to say, language bridges the gap between the rational and the intuitive. It makes the rational beautiful and the intuitive reasonable. Every poem lies somewhere on the spectrum between music and meaning.

Every thought is a compromise between our need to abstract pattern and to respond physically to the environment—to remain part of the world’s movement. Language creation happens when someone’s intuition of the world differs from most people’s—possibly there is something physically different about him or her, or they grew up somewhere else. Their native sense of things is different, and so they begin using an idioglossia (i.e., they create and speak their own language).

Yes, idioglossia is relative. After all, there is no such thing as perfect communication. But, at the more creative end of the spectrum, an idioglossia will begin to attract listeners by its beauty and clarity. Especially in a situation where there are rival cultures and languages warring for control, an idioglossia can evolve into a Creole (and all languages, at bottom, are creoles).

Poetry, on the other hand, is a kind of idiolect—a person’s unique use of the common language. Idiolects are always evolving because people constantly experiment with their words and speech. When the process proceeds undisturbed, it will produce a local dialect. But poetry is closer in spirit to idioglossia—it is a more radical rehandling of speech and is closer to outright language creation—just look at all the phrases that Shakespeare bequeathed to us. (And think of the competition between Anglo-Norman and Middle English that produced the variety of dialects available to the Bard).

Every act of language creation is a moral act intended (at some level) to help people understand themselves and the world more clearly—and to enjoy it more. There is something deeply intentional in this act of intuiting the right words. A great poet deserves her (or his) laurels.

True to its intuitive roots, language flourishes best in a restless or transitional society. Too many rules, although intended to help preserve the language’s clarity, have the paradoxical effect of stifling speakers. Words, and the thoughts and experiences they represent, are spontaneous. Perhaps this is why so many cultures have had a language of literature and study and a language of daily use. Poetry belongs with the quotidian, the music of the moment. Keep your ears pricked on any street corner, and you may hear it.   RT


Photo: Alaskan Mask, Tunghak–Yupik; WikiCmns; Dallas MOA; Public Domain.

  1. September 21, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    A very interesting thought. We have always had this need to express ourselves creatively. Some are more in tune with it but I think in each of our own ways, we all have this ability to be creative. Thanks for sharing :-]

    • September 26, 2011 at 9:43 pm

      Jesse: thanks for stopping by. the open secret of creativity is making itself known to a distracted world… RT

  2. October 3, 2011 at 5:08 am

    Always fascinated to see the magic your work by weaving together threads of differing hues and from disparate sources. Like you, I have done a bit of thinking about idioglossia and idiolect, so am interested to read your thoughts shared here.

    Still working through your assertion: “Poetry belongs with the quotidian” — I can see what you’re pointing to, but still not sure I agree with you entirely.

    • October 4, 2011 at 9:27 pm

      xties: thanks as always for your astute comment. Rather than being quotidian in the worst sense, I think that poetry reveals (or at least hints at) the deep patterns and resonance in nature…those audible to the careful observer and listener. Then again, you could say poetry at its best exists on multiple levels, available to all listeners in the way that Shakespeare’s plays offered different points of access for people of different education, intelligence, and interests. Perhaps it can also offer the same lesson cast in different forms…I really haven’t thought this through… something more to consider… RT

  1. December 26, 2011 at 10:17 am

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