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I'm reading Jason Fried's book Rework, and I don't understand what poetry means in these sentences:

Pare down to the essence, but don't remove the poetry.

Leave the poetry in what you make.

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  • Here poetry is used to represent the art or craft, or more generally what is fine or magical about a thing.
    – Robusto
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 14:21
  • @Robusto I'm suddenly reminded of Johnny Tillotson and Poetry in Motion from the pre-Beatles era of 1960s music; before Liverpool took over as the world capital of popular music. Historians of the genre have looked for influences upon the Fab Four. Buddy Holly was certainly one. Maybe Tillotson could have been another. Sorry if I digress. All this was before your time.
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 14:37

3 Answers 3

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The word poetry is used figuratively in those quotes, presumably to suggest leaving (not removing) what is beautiful, elegant, layered and evocative. Usability of poetry in that way is hinted at in explanations of what poetry is, in en.wikipedia's Poetry article and in etymonline's Poetry entry. From wikipedia:

Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language — such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre — to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.

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Without having read Fried's book, and not knowing the sentence's larger context, the prescription seems to recommend removing what is unnecessary while yet bringing "art" or "creativity" to the task at hand. For instance, whereas one does not generally wish for "poetry" in a set of instructions, some instructions are more successful than others. What accounts for the distinction? I would suggest that the author of the more successful set of instructions employed greater creativity. When Fried's advice is applied to poetry his meaning is less clear to me because, while my goal as a poet is certainly to avoid or remove anything unnecessary from my poetry--because what is unnecessary detracts from a poem's success--the act of poetry is, by nature, a creative or artistic endeavor, and cannot be composed by rote or without employing "art" or "creativity". Though, like a set of instructions, some poems are more successful (or fulfill their intent) than others. I believe that, in both examples, the distinction hinges upon the degree of art or creativity one brings to bear.

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When people speak of something as having the quality of poetry that isn't poetry, they often juxtapose it with the word prosaic, which means 'prose like.' Prose was in earlier times considered second to the more refined poetry, but prose can in fact sometimes be very poetic in nature.

There are two ideas at work here - one is the idea of craftsmanship, and the other of something higher, of a poetic nature. The distinction becomes the notion that there is, in any creative process, two ways you can go - one is workmanlike, the other aspires to art. 'Leave the poetry in what you make' implies not discarding flashes of pure inspiration that convey a striving toward art in the process of working on a creative project.

Paul McCartney cites the example of telling John Lennon he would change the words, from the initial draft, of Hey Jude, 'the movement you need is on your shoulder,' because he thought they were too vague, or nonsense words. Lennon said, 'No you won't, that's the best line!' Lennon was saving the poetic, not discarding it for the sake of clarity or better workmanship. He saw the poetry in those words, and McCartney kept them in. This is a very good example of what Fried is talking about in "Rework" in the quote above.

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