The word “poetry” itself comes from the Greek word poieo meaning “I create,” and create it does. Poetry is used to convey love, lyrics, anger, hate, magic… poetry is a method of creation and manifestation, a method of memory and preservation.
Poetry is an art form, one that predates literacy. Researchers believe that the earliest forms of poetry were sung and passed on as an oral history. These were often chants or prayers, but from the physical records left historical accounts, instructions for everyday activities, and fiction can be counted among the poems. The majority of early oral histories were told in a poetic notation, likely because the repetition would make it easier to remember. Poetry is old enough that we can’t determine when it began, not like we can with texts, though The Epic of Gilgamesh is cited as being one of the oldest examples of poetry along with the Odyssey and the Iliad.
The trick of using poetry for memory has been used for centuries and is still being used today as a mnemonic device. Everyone’s likely heard poetry with rhyme schemes like:
“I before E except after C
or when sounding like A
as in neighbor or weigh,”
“Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Save February with twenty-eight days clear,
And twenty-nine each leap year.”
Poetry of all genres and ages has found circulation all around the world. It has become a way to learn and understand cultures and the emotions of other people. Poetry also provides understanding on how language and symbol systems work. As Alice Osborn says on her blog, “Poetry is like the Windex on a grubby car window—it bares open the vulnerabilities of human beings so we can all relate to each other a little better.”