Definition of Modern Poetry
Za'ba defined poetry or verse composition as “specifically used to express an appealing thought using elegant language that portrays the exquisiteness and beauty of language.” Such an attractive representation can only further entice those who hear it. Za'ba went on to say that poetry is arranged into stanzas and the stanzas have a similar rhyme scheme or rhythm or content with a specific metre.
The definition of poetry given by Za'ba focuses on two main features of poetry. The first is its abstract nature such as the beauty or elegance of the language and harmony of sound. The second is its concrete nature, that is the underlying structure encompassing the lines in the verse, position of syllables in a line and rhyme scheme. Both of these features are closely related to the theme and have an impact on the reader.
Za'ba’s definition of poetry is from the perspective of a researcher. According to the definition given by a poet and literary scholar, Muhammad Haji Salleh, poetry is a compact form of literature with music of language and the mastery of its traditions by the poet. It is this compact nature of the poetry that, through its reading, enlightens us all.
The English poet, Wordsworth, defined poetry as “the imaginative expression of strong feeling, usually rhythmical … the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” ST Coleridge, another English poet, defined poetry as “the best words in their best order.”
There are several other definitions of poetry by researchers of poetry and poets. Nevertheless, only a small number describe the features of high quality poetry.
Brief Early History of Modern Malay Poetry
The first modern Malay poet was Omar Mustaffa. His poetry, Angan-angan dengan Gurindam, was published in the Utusan Melayu newspaper on 18 January 1913. In terms of form and content, this poem differs greatly from the traditional Malay poetic forms, in particular the pantun and syair. Its design, arrangement of lines, stanzas and rhyme scheme did not follow the traditional form. In terms of content, it highlighted issues current to its time, such as economics and politics.
After the publication of poetry in its new or modernised form and content, there was a lull in poetry writing. In the early 1930s, there was a revival of poetry writing activities with the publication of O Sariku, a poem written by Harun Aminurrasyid, in the Pujangga Baru magazine, no. 6 of December 1933. In 1934, Pungguk wrote five poems concurrently and published them in the Guru magazine of March 1934. The titles of the five poems were Keluh Kesah, Selalu Merayu, Tak Disangka-sangka, Pujukan Hati and Ibuku. All the five poems deviated from the strict rules of traditional Malay poetry.
Since the first generation of modern poetry by Harun Aminurrasyid and Pungguk, modern Malay poetry has experienced tremendous growth and development. Various themes and issues have been raised by poets that are appropriate to their times and expectations regarding life and the relationship among humans, between mankind and the Creator, and between mankind and nature. This can be clearly seen when the path of historical growth and development of the modern Malay poetry is traced.
Preparation for Poetry-Writing
Anyone who wishes to write poetry must make the necessary preparations. He must read extensively the works of other poets. In this way, he will indirectly learn about poetry. He must also read other materials for the purpose of expanding his vocabulary and generating ideas to write poetry. He needs to produce poems constantly as training to hone his skills. For this, he must have the patience and the willingness to go into seclusion. These are but some of the requirements of a person embarking on poetry- writing.
Guide to Poetry-Writing
A poem of quality must be equally balanced in its external and internal forms. Balance gives beauty to the language and beauty to the meaning in a poem. Therefore, a person who writes poetry must take this balance into account.
The external form is the visible features that shape a poem. Lines, sounds, selection of words, figurative language, concrete words, abstract words, poetic licence and typography are the external features of a poem.
The internal form consists of the theme, feeling, tone or attitude and message. The theme is the main idea that the poet intends to convey in a poem. Poems could have religious, humanitarian, nationalistic, economic and political themes. Feeling is the mood the poet imbues the poem with that readers are able to appreciate. Feelings may include sympathy, sadness, hatred, anger, pity and resignation. Tone is the attitude of the poet towards the reader which could be instructive, mocking, advising or narrative. Message is what drives the poet to write. It is implicitly woven into the theme.