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Fact in Poetry: Bird on My Doorstep

David W. Parsley


Autumn Sky Poetry re-ran a poem of mine in January (link below).  This posting is accompanied by a nice photograph and the opportunity for reader commentary (much like PMO's blog concept.)

Autumn Sky Poetry Archives

One comment thread deals with the question of factuality, both for this poem and for poetry in general.  In this case, the poem is completely accurate, justifying the speculations by the commentators as to the story behind the bird's tragic appearance on my doorstep.  But literature is filled with pieces that take "poetic license."  In our time of letting poetry develop and speak in the context of experience without pretense or superposition of meaning, is this still a valid device?

 - Dave


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Hi Dave, This publication and how your poem is presented is impressive.  How sad and lovely your poem is.

I find it odd that in poetry the facts are questioned.   I read your poem and it is clear you are sharing an experience.  You provide only the color deeming it too exotic to be local. But you don't identify it because you don't know what it is.  You are simply guessing,  that is made apparent.  

A poem projects feeling not facts. The poet uses the tools he has available to communicate that emotion, be it what his eyes see or adjusting that image to draw focus to the emotion.  We use word choice, word placement, metaphor, repetition, imagery.  And yes embellishment of the facts if it will transcend the intellect and move to the heart of the reader.  That is my feeling anyway.  This is the day of alternative facts, some thing poetry has always employed.  




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First, let me say I very much like your poem and how it's presented, the way it looks on the page with the accompanying artwork (photo/image). The most striking part for me is how the speaker observes that, " ... he would have come while we were eating." The sense of loss is always heightened with the realization that something solemn like the passing of a living thing has taken place while one was occupied with the mundane, with something trivial.

I've always insisted that companion media pieces enhance the entire presentation of a poem, especially on a web page. I've included images with several of my own works, and I've seen others do it, too. Including an image certainly doesn't take away from a well crafted poem. It's like with album art. When a music lover buys an album, it's clearly about the music, but the album usually comes with extras: cover art, lyrics, etc. All of it is a tangible package like a book. You can hold it. But here's where my view differs with that of some others. Some people think poems are better in a book than on a web page. Yes, I still love books, but I don't love a well-crafted poem any more or any less whether it's presented in a manuscript, bound in a book, or displayed on a web page. Keats' "Bright Star" is exactly the same no matter the media ... with one exception. Though I love to hear a poem read out loud, I think it's incomplete if it's solely recited without the benefit of seeing the words/lines/stanzas, how they look in writing. Hearing a poem read (or reading it out loud myself) with the written work in front of me offers me the best of all worlds.

I'm very much a proponent of artistic license, and I'm not such a fan of popular dogma or trendy limitations placed on art. Artistic license is yet another tool that enhances a work of art, even makes art art. Take a look at some lovely examples of naive art. What kind of a boring know-it-all would insist that Henry Rousseau's "The Repast of the Lion" is flawed because of inconsistencies in flora and fauna? Or that Juego de Domino's " The Domino Players" should be revised because it's unlikely a rooster would be present at a game of dominoes? That said, most of the time I do strive for accuracy in my own poems and do a lot of research when composing a poem. For example, I use a lot of geographical references, and in most cases, deviation from facts would only serve to confuse the reader. I try to keep it factual when deviation would serve no artistic purpose. On the other hand, in a recent topic I had expressed concern over my preferred use of the present tense toward the end of the poem when past tense might have made more factual sense. Our member Geoff kindly addressed the issue in a way that made me feel good about my preferred choice of present tense: "Yes I think this poem works fine in the present tense with the chronological issues you stated -- 'it is poetry after all' -- and the appreciative reader still requires the courtesy of having a little imaginative work to do ... " He has helped me out with his thoughtful replies other times where I have been bogged down by similar issues by reminding me of poetic license. In the referenced Rousseau painting, botany is not the point of the artwork, rather the take-away is something more profound. As for your poem, there is nothing that would make me presume that you imagined the incident, that the facts were off because it didn't happen and you wrote it without research without being able to back up the part about "exotic." This isn't to take away from the poster's comment; he knows about birds, and it perplexes him, but I think he's looking into it more than the average reader. Knowing nothing about birds, it's a non-issue for me why or in what way the bird was "exotic." It just was.


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David W. Parsley


Judi, Tony, thanks for these insightful comments.  I was just learning how to use the "new" blog feature back in 2017, so I missed these responses at the time.  It was a pleasure to discover them while hopping back to check on things here.  Just goes to show it pays to reminisce sometimes.

Oh, and I also did not see the words of my critic until months later.  You can see my "factual" reply to him if you follow the link.

Nice discussion on poetic license.  I do try to remain faithful to the facts, but I am starting to get more lenient in my views there.  But I do still strive to find the art in what is literally true or in the judicious selection of detail.  But a good example of me doing otherwise can be found in "Trumpet Morning", recently published.  It does describe rather accurately a scene I actually witnessed.  Except there were no fig trees (symbol for Israel) or a rose-of-sharon (symbol for the church as the Body of Christ).  I just needed them to complete the symbolic narrative striving in lock step with the daybreak arrival of a powerful storm.  I feel spotless as a lamb.


- Dave

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David W. Parsley


Oh, and at the time, I was very much opposed to the notion of "alternate facts".  I still am.  I just don't conflate the notion so dogmatically with poetic license now.

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