Tag Archives: Yeats

The Ways I Use Poetry

When I was in grade school, I used poetry for entertainment. My grade school had regular book fairs, and one of the first books I bought on my own was The Random House Book of Poetry for Children because, in the first few pages, it had a funny poem about a boy that would take off all his clothing and could never figure out how to put it back on. The book was large and full of various poems. When there wasn’t anything to watch on television, or when I finished some of my homework, I’d sit in my room and read through my book of poetry and try to memorize the poems that were on the pages. As I aged, the appeal of the book of children’s poetry faded, and it was placed into a box and given to Goodwill.

It wasn’t until high school that I started to use poetry again. This time, I used poetry as a form of self-expression, as many teens end up doing. Sometimes I wrote poems and sometimes I wrote song lyrics, but they were always dark and angry and honestly, not very good. I used poetry to help form my self-identity and to work through an extreme level of teenage angst. These works often found themselves on napkins, or on ripped up pieces of paper, or inside of one of my textbooks. The poetry I wrote back then is long gone, which is probably a good thing. If I had to classify the type of use this poetry was, it would fall under the category of misuse.

What Makes Art Art? Analysis of a Yeats Poem using Russian Formalist Shklovsky.

In Shklovsky’s essay, “Art as Technique,” he introduces the concept of defamiliarization when pinpointing what makes art “art.” For Shklovsky, art is created when the subject matter of that particular piece of art is presented to the audience in a way in which they had not considered the subject before. This process takes the habitualized and mundane and transforms it through a new perspective or consideration of the subject matter. Shklovsky offers many processes through poetic language defamiliarizes the reader with the subject matter of the poem through breaking the habitualized behaviors of prose language. Prose, according to “Art as Technique,” is vague and relies on assumptions to convey meaning, is delivered quickly and effortlessly with unhindered language, and has an inherent rhythm. Poetic language, or artistic language, as used in poems like William Butler Yeats’s “A Coat,” has the opposite effect.

Foremost, poetic language is not used to describe an idea, but rather to create an image of the idea through which the reader can view the subject matter of the piece of art differently. Shklovsky notes that poetic language’s “purpose is not to make us perceive meaning, but to create a special perception of the object” (781). In Yeats’s poem, “A Coat,” the very first line of the poem accomplishes this special perception of the object he is writing about, or in this case, a piece of art – a song. Yeats writes “I made my song a coat.” For this line, song is either personified and is being made a coat to wear, or is being made into a coat. Either way, we have something artistic, or conceptual, with no physically tangible state (except that on paper) being mixed with something practical, tangible, and functional. A song serves an ascetic purpose of pleasure while a coat serves the everyday purpose of warmth and protection from the elements outside. The juxtaposition of realm – the realm of art and the realm of the practical – are being combined in a way unfamiliar to the reader, which serves to defamiliarize both familiar objects within the poem by reconsidering how the two might work together as purposed by the author.