Where does the word poetry come from?

The word poetry originally comes from the greek ‘poiesis’ which means: “a making, fabrication, creation, production”.[1] “ποίησις.” Greek Word Study Tool. Accessed July 10, 2015. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=poi/hsis. According to the philosopher Martin Heidegger, Plato defines poiesis in

“Symposium (205b):… “Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis, is bringing-forth [Her-vor-bringen].”[2] Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” in Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David M. Kaplan (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004), 12

Therefore, etymologically the word poetry means to bring forth into presence in the same way physis, that is nature[3] Physis means “nature, universe” it also  means “the nature, natural qualities, powers, constitution, condition, of a person or thing”.  See “φύσις,” Greek Word Study Tool, accessed July 11, 2015, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=fu%2Fsis. , brings into presence our existence. For example, physis unconceals from within a seed as a new seedling is brought forth until it becomes a fruit and again falls into earth to unconceal itself by itself again and again. The difference from poiesis from physis is that poiesis is unconcealed not by itself but from another. It is an act of creative love from someone beside itself. Whereas physis is an act of creative love by itself for itself, poiesis is an act of creative love from another to another. But both physis and poiesis are a way to unconceal, that is to bring forth truth as aletheia, a revealing.[4] Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”, 12.

I am following Heidegger’s turn in his interpretation of poiesis toward the Pre-Socratics. It is when Heidegger went back to the Pre-Socratics to establish physis as “a creative event which first brings beings out of concealment”, a poiesis.[5] Alexander Ferrari Di Pippo, “The Concept of Poiesis in Heidegger’s An Introduction to Metaphysics,” Thinking Fundamentals, IWM Junior Visiting Fellows Conferences 9 (Vienna 2000): 32, http://www.iwm.at/wp-content/uploads/jc-09-03.pdf. The break between Plato and the Pre-Socratics occurs because Heidegger became aware that physis was reduced to the concept of an idea (an appearance exists as a copy of an idea) rather than a poiesis, a revealing. And it is very important to see the poietical dimension of physis because rather than physis being oriented to production (which could reduce us to identical machines) as mimesis, it becomes creative (which takes us toward creative love), bringing “beings out of concealment” to presence to reveal.[6] Ferrari Di Pippo, “The Concept of Poiesis in Heidegger’s An Introduction to Metaphysics,”, 31-32. 

With this etymological conception of poetry, poiesis appears to be far away from our modern use of the word poetry, “to create verse”, but it is not. According to The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, poetry comes from the word poiesis and argues that Aristotle’s Poetics is the first time poetry is defined as producing verse. Afterward, during the Middle Ages the Latinized word poema (poem) and poetica (poetics) began to be used to describe the art of writing poems. These words, of course, derived etymologically from the word poiesis.[7] The history of the modern word poetry goes beyond the scope of this article, but you can read it in this encyclopedia, see: P. Middleton, “Poetry,” in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Roland Greene, Stephen Cushman, Clare Cavanagh, Jahan Ramazani, Paul F. Rouzer, Harris Feinsod, David Marno, and Alexandra Slessarev, 4th ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 1065-070. If we think about creating verse, there is a technique involved. The word technique comes from the Greek techne (so does the word technology). The Greek word techne refers to do “an art, craft”[8]”τέχνη,” Greek Word Study Tool, accessed July 10, 2015, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=te%2Fxnh. that can become a skill, but this art also discloses truth just as poiesis does. The philosopher Sean McGrath writes:

“The proper kind of techne participates in the emergence and withdrawal of beings, serves the unconcealment of beings, and also in its own way sets forth the earth. This natural self-disclosure, ‘light . . . shining to and into the work’; Heidegger calls ‘the beautiful.’”.[9] Sean McGrath, “Toward A Technology That Allows The Beautiful To Occur,” Animus 8 (December 22, 2008): 13, http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/articles/volume%208/mcgrath8.pdf.

The proper kind of techne a kind of knowing that brings to the light the truth which is beautiful[10] By beautiful, I mean a way of seeing and perceiving where one unfolds or unconceals truth no matter what kind of experience it is. For example, the philosopher Slavoj Zizek in an Examined Life tell us that we must see garbage and not only that, we must love it. By loving that which appears to be ugly, we unconceal the truth to find a beauty that leads us to action, to a poiesis. If we ignore garbage, then it will continue to pile up in places that aren’t meant to be with garbage (such as the ocean) but if we see it we can be able to do something with it and create beauty from that which was beautiful before to our eyes but lost its beauty as we “perceived” garbage as useless and ugly. If we see that truth and realize that that same plastic was once seen as beautiful enough to drink from it, we can now see it and do something that brings forth beauty into our a new unbiased perception that without idealization can see “perfection in imperfection itself and this is how we should learn to love the world. True ecologists loves all this [garbage]” See Examined Life, dir. Astra Taylor, perf. Slavoj Žižek (Canada: Zeitgeist Films, 2008), https://vimeo.com/103430700. To listen to the quote go to the last minutes of this youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGCfiv1xtoU as Derek H. Whitehead writes:

Poiesis was conceived as bringing something from concealment into the full light and radiation of a created work. Poiesis is not to be grasped in its features as a practical or voluntary activity, as [Giorgio] Agamben persuades us, but rather in its being an ‘unveiling,’ a-letheia, a making known which pro-duces or leads things into presence.”[11] Giorgio Agamben persuades us to see poiesis in relation to praxis, rather than techne and physis. Rather than seeing poiesis as revealing of truth in a creative origination as physis does, Agamben wants to reduce it to production that leads to presence as an exercise of our will. See Derek H. Whitehead, “Poiesis and Art-Making: A Way of Letting-Be,”Contemporary Aesthetics 1 (2003): 2. Poiesis as ‘leading into being’, http://www.contempaesthetics.org/newvolume/pages/article.php?articleID=216. I believe that to define poiesis in relation to praxis leads us back to mimesis, rather than Heidegger’s Pre-Socratic interpretation of poiesis that is in constant relationship with physis and techne (through Sophocles’ Antigone). 

Although through poiesis we create as a techne, we must resist to confuse it with praxis. Whereas poiesis and techne relate to an unveiling of truth, praxis is “a doing, transaction, business”.[12] “πρᾶξις,” Greek Word Study Tool, accessed July 11, 2015, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=pra%3Dcis So if we want to think of poetry as being simply another job or activity that is done for business purposes (check out website design ideas to increase your production rate ) as a mode of production which include a vision where it is all about our wills and the mastery of materials, we are losing the essence of the poetic activity which is its relationship to physis and techne as McGrath argues:

Techne, the manufacturing of artifacts, is as much a kind of poiesis as physis. Coming to be is a poetic event. Heidegger speaks of beauty as the appearance of coming to be.”[13] McGrath. “Toward A Technology That Allows The Beautiful To Occur.”, 11-20.

Therefore, we must resist to reduce poetry to a praxis because by doing so we are leaving out the essence of poetry which is being’s disclosure as truth (aletheia) through a poietic, i.e. creative, event which is a coming to be from another other than itself. If you create poetry or any work of art, you might feel in conflict between the praxis and techne. However, the one who is being poetry will eventually learn how to create through a techne.  Only then, the exercise of your will or the resulted praxis will always be in consideration of the relationship that gave birth to that work of art where technepoiesis, and physis act together as a creative triad:

  • Techne is a knowledge, a know-how or gnosis, that realizes Being’s disclosure (its homelessness) and can through an art, in its true sense, bring physis to stand and shine in something present, the work.
  • Physis is the uppermost form of poiesis, a creative act, but one that rises out of itself by itself and brings forth into presence as a flower when blooming, “a coming to be that is a poetic event.”[14] McGrath. “Toward A Technology That Allows The Beautiful To Occur.”, 12. 
  • Poiesis is a physis but it rises out from another other than itself to bring into presence. It is the brining into the light of presence by putting Being into work through a poetic event. A work as an art that reaches the beautiful through techne.

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