Think about Poetry as a raw material – a bar of pure metal which is physically pulled or “drawn” through increasingly narrow die openings until it becomes wire fine enough to vibrate at a musical frequency. Normal daily speech does not easily tolerate the level of stress required for this kind of precision.
Poetry uses the same words as prose narrative, but because the majority of its work in the world deals with processing the most extreme human emotions, a poem goes through a great deal of pressure as it is being drawn, and may occasionally kick up into a kind of spontaneous descant, beyond control by the rational mind, and lasting just long enough to bring about a new relationship in the world that was previously absent.
Poetry is partly a language unto itself, hmmm yes. . . .but which language? Poems can be translated from one human speech to another, but what were Poetry's own very first words?
There are hints. Listen to this from Monica Gagliano, a plant-communication specialist who is one of an increasing number of scientists who have “gone over” to Poetry in order to find the vocabulary & metaphors they need to continue accurately documenting their work. (From her book Thus Spoke the Plant):
Here linguist and translator George Steiner in his book After Babel, is complimenting Shakespeare for intuitively understanding that individual words truly do not have definition outside of the full context of whatever surrounding words they are temporarily thrown into contact with.
In her book Nay, Rather, translator Anne Carson mentions a word in Homer's Odyssey even the poet himself did not translate any further than to bring it across with only its ancient Greek pronunciation to guard it from becoming revealed. Although the single-syllable word seems to refer to a plant that is probably a nightshade, Carson makes no attempt to draw a correlation with a real plant, since, as she says,
There is a sense building here, not only of plants as conscious beings with their own method of communication, but also that words themselves can be said to dwell in their own world, sharing much with us, but not everything. I ran across this same idea in a fantasy novel by Oregon-born (and recently deceased) author Patricia A. McKillip. She's referring to the long and arduous years of memorizing and translating that the ancient Irish bards went through: (from The Bards of Bone Plain)
So, words have their own world; plants have their own secret language, and Poetry is the closest we humans ever get to either. What a challenge! What a joy!
I'll close with a rare example of a poem where the poet is so addled by his original image that he steps aside almost in bewilderment, and allows the process to take its own course, rather than trying to describe his way out of his overwhelmed state. Brodkey manages to open a space for Poetry to come in like an interior decorator, to select and juxtapose some words which, in a normal, rational sequence might sound like just one damned thing after another.