- Books, Literature, and Writing
Define Poetry in your Own Words
Define poetry, that's impossible. But at least let's try. Poetry is so many things to so many different people so I've put together all kinds of definitions, from established poets to those who write and read for pleasure.
If you read or write poetry you may at one time or another have asked yourself the questions: What does this poem mean? Has it a purpose? What is poetry? Where does it come from?
All valid questions to pose. I've often been puzzled by the process of writing poetry, especially the initial phase of wanting to write a poem about something that has moved me or caught my attention in an unexpected way.
Other forms of writing seem not to be so mysterious. I can understand why people keep a diary or a journal. Short stories and novels and other fictions are more to do with expressing ideas and following a plot or theme or narrative.
Poetry is something else altogether. It seems to be underpinned by feeling and emotion, it comes from inspiration and takes form as rhythmical language. It's a world apart from prose.
Poets over the centuries have been pondering the same questions and coming up with answers as bizarre,beautiful and unique as their poems. Take Lawrence Ferlenghetti for example:
'Poetry is a naked woman, a naked man, and the distance between them.'
I wouldn't put it quite like that myself but I can see where he's coming from, I think. Ferlenghetti has other ideas about poetry, which you can read about a little later on in the list of quotes from other poets.
There are also contributions by fellow poets here on HubPages which make for interesting reading. I hope you find much food for thought.
What is the Point of Poetry?
Poetry. What's the point? What use has a poem? A poem isn't a tool you can pick up and use like a hammer or a laptop. It's not something you swallow like medication. But for me poetry does have a use as part of a healing process or use as a preventative, to help us deal with the nasty negative things life can throw at us.
Poetry has a totally different way of entering our hearts and minds. We may only be reading or listening to a poem using our eyes and ears but the effect those words can have goes way beyond anything we can measure or articulate.
It can bring delight, pleasure and puzzlement all at the same time. Some poetry doesn't come knocking at your door on a routine visit, it bursts in through a window you thought was closed, it flies in like a long lost bird singing a song you've never heard before, it quietly makes a space for itself in a silent room you thought was empty.
Poets might shape poetry but it ultimately shapes them and everyone else who comes in to contact with it. This is the point of poetry.
Jodah - Poetry is a gentle river flowing through a rocky and mountainous landscape of prose.
janshares - Poetry is movement; words shifting around within the writer's soul,coming together in harmonious messages, which move into the reader's soul.
Towards A Modern Definition of Poetry
Poets and thinkers have been trying to define poetry for thousands of years. Aristotle thought poetry more important than history. Plato thought poets were either inspired or mad and wanted poetry banned because it was a bad influence
English poetry has evolved through time, moving on from Anglo Saxon epic poetry, into tales and themes of love, romance, religion and war. Form and language changed and with it the ideas about what poetry is and what it is for.
Great wordsmiths like Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare took the language into new and exciting territory.
Percy Bysshe Shelley's In Defence of Poetry (1821) and John Stuart Mill's What Is Poetry? (1833) were important attempts to bring value to poetry. And the first truly modern universal poet emerged from the U.S.A. - Walt Whitman. Old fashioned structured verse would never be the same again.
As the 20th century progressed free verse poetry took off, coinciding with the start of abstract art and psychological investigation. The inner life became more and more complex as science and technology tightened their grip on society.
Different poetical schools developed each with their own take on the language. Imagist, Concrete, Visual, Black Mountain, Beat, Feminist, Sound.......right on up to today's Rap and Slam where poetry blurs into music. Alternative and Innovative are right now on the doorstep.
And what of this digital age? Where does poetry stand? Is it easier to define?
Many varied kinds of poetry can be found on the internet, from traditional rhyming verse to long, rambling streams of consciousness. People who had never published poetry before can join in and see their efforts in print, a giant leap forward you might say.
We may not be nearer a universal definition of poetry but one thing cannot be disputed - poetry is far more democratic than it used to be.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge - Poetry; the best words in the best order.
W.H..Auden - ...of the many definitions of poetry, the simplest is still the best: memorable speech.
Dana Goia - Poetry is the art of using words charged with their utmost meaning.
Thomas Gray - Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.
Mary Oliver - Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words,after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.
Sylvia Plath - The blood jet is poetry / There is no stopping it.
Jasper Fforde - Whereas story is processed in the mind in a straightforward manner, poetry bypasses rational thought and goes straight to the limbic system and lights it up like a brush fire. It's the crack cocaine of the literary world.
Sherman Alexie - Poetry = Anger x Imagination
John Ashbery - I don't look on poetry as closed works. I feel they're going on all the time in my head and I occasionally snip off a length.
Sylvia Plath - It's like water or bread, or something absolutely essential to me. I find my self absolutely fulfilled when I have written a poem.
Stephen Mallarme - It is the job of poetry to clean up our word-clogged reality by creating silences around things.
Being In The World
William Carlos Williams - Poetry must find its primary impetus in local conditions.
David Constantine - Poetry is, to put it mildly, a useful thing if, when reading it, we sense a better way of being in the world.
Maya Angelou - Poetry can tell us what human beings are. It can tell us why we stumble and fall and how, miraculously, we can stand up.
Edwin Morgan - Poetry is a brilliant vibrating interface between the human and the non-human.
Stanley Kunitz - Every new poem is like finding a new bride. Words are so erotic, they never tire of their coupling.
Mick Imlah - Poetry is a way of talking about things that frighten you.
Miroslav Holub - This is one sense of poetry. A little concoction of words against death. It's almost the instinct against death crystallized.
Gustave Flaubert - There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.
Sylvia Plath - I think my poems immediately come out of the sensuous and emotional experiences I have.
W.B.Yeats - We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.
Dylan Thomas - The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it.
Paul Muldoon - The point of poetry is to be acutely discomforting, to prod and provoke, to poke us in the eye, to punch us in the nose, to knock us of our feet, to take our breath away.
A great read, makes you think about the meaning of poetry and what it has to offer.
Is Poetry Useless?
Many people consider poetry to be useless. Even some poets have said so - W.H. Auden thought poetry didn't make anything happen - and to me that is just plain wrong. Poetry has a use, of course it has, but it shouldn't be measured the way we measure the usefulness of ordinary things, like clocks and chairs and 'how to' manuals.
Poetry is art and all art is useful because it evokes and stirs up our emotions. It makes us feel good, brings us to tears, gives us a good laugh, can shock and enlighten us.
Once the poem is down on paper for all to see then comes judgement - good, bad, indifferent. Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English poetry, in typically humorous fashion had something to say about the merits of verse.
"By God," quod he," for pleynly, at a word,
Thy drasty rymyng is not worth a toord."
James Tate - What we want from poetry is to be moved, to be moved from where we now stand.
Seamus Heaney - A poem should take you somewhere different....a poet should be the one least likely to step into the same river twice.
Eamon Grennan - Good poets are the explorers of the world. Out on the frontiers, they send back bulletins.
Language, Beauty and Power
Matthew Arnold - Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance.
Paul Engle - Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power.
Rita Dove - Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.
Percy Bysshe Shelley - Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.
Lawrence Ferlenghetti - Poetry is eternal graffitti written in the heart of everyone.
William Hazlitt - Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself.
Derek Walcott - There is the buried language and there is the individual vocabulary, and the process of poetry is one of excavation and self-discovery.
Simile and Metaphor
Carl Sandburg - Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance.
Adrienne Rich - Poetry is the liquid voice that can wear through stone.
Lawrence Ferlenghetti - Poetry is a quiver on the skin of eternity.
Charles Wright - Poetry is the fox under our shirts that gnaws away at our hearts.Outside we stand firm, inside, we are altered forever.
Les Murray - Poetry is a zoo in which you keep demons and angels.
Pablo Neruda - Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread.
W.S.Merwin - Poetry is like making a joke. if you get one word wrong at the end of a joke, you've lost the whole thing.
W.B.Yeats - Poetry is truth seen with passion.
Kathleen Jamie - A poem is an approach towards a truth.
Simon Armitage - Poems don't have to tell the truth, but they have to be true to themselves.
Spirit and Soul
Lucille Clifton - Poetry speaks to something in us that so wants to be filled. It speaks to the great hunger of the soul.
Edward Hirsch - Poetry connects us to what is deepest in ourselves.
Percy Bysshe Shelley - Poetry is indeed something divine.
Czeslaw Milosz - Poetry has to do with the non rational parts of man.
For a poet, a human being is a mystery. -
this is a religious feeling.
Edgar Allan Poe - To elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.
Wallace Stevens - The poet is the priest of the invisible.
Federico Garcia Lorca - The magic virtue of a poem consists in being always daemon ridden so that it baptises with dark water those who look at it. The daemon? Where is the daemon?
Charles Simic - Poetry says more about the psychic life of an age than any other art.
Muriel Rukeyser - The sources of poetry are in the spirit seeking completeness.
We Read and Write Poetry Because.....Robin Williams as teacher John Keating
JThomp42 - Poetry is the mind, body and soul coming together to say what the heart feels.
Venkatachari M - Poetry.....is the flow of innate feeling through some tuned syllables.
GNelson - If there is one thing I have learned about writing poems, it is that they are never done. Years pass, they sit unfinished. Like children, I always want t help them.
snakeslane - Poetry is a distillation of words and life.
Romeos Quill - Poetry is the oxygen of the soul..
manatita44 - If you listen, the Universe sings with majesty to its own rhapsodies.
William Wordsworth - Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.
Emily Dickinson - If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.
Jane Kenyon - The poet's job is to put into words those feelings we all have that are so deep, so important and yet so difficult to name, to tell the truth in sch a beautiful way,that people cannot live without it.
Neil Astley -.....the essence of poetry is still an interplay of thought and feeling expressed through the sound and rhythm of language.
John Stuart Mill - Poetry is feeling confessing itself to itself.
Leonardo da Vinci - Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.
Meena Alexander - Poetry takes as its purview what is deeply felt and is essentially unsayable; that is the paradox on which the poem necessarily turns.
Audre Lord - ....it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are - until the poem - nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.
Wonder and Mystery
Lucille Clifton - Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.
Nathalie Sarrante - Poetry is what makes the invisible appear.
Charles Bukowski - Poetry is what happens when nothing else can.
T.S. Eliot - Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.
Archibald McLeish - A poem should not mean/ But be.
W.B. Yeats - What can be explained is not poetry.
Michael Longley - If I knew where poems came from, I'd go there.
Elizabeth Bishop - There is a mystery and a surprise and after that a great deal of hard work.
Christopher Logue - Poetry cannot be defined, only experienced.
Charles Simic - Poetry is the imponderable.
Marianne Moore - Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.
William Shakespeare - The form of things unknown, the poet's pen / Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name. (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
John Cage - There is poetry when we realize that we possess nothing.
Healing and Belief
Ted Hughes - Poetry is the voice of spirit and imagination and all that is potential, as well as of the healing benevolence that used to be the privilege of the gods.
Adrian Mitchell - Sometimes a poem can change people's lives, strengthen and focus people's beliefs.
Novalis - Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.
What Is Poetry For?
Poetry and Meaning
Poetry is such a vast continent it'll never be fully explored.There are landscapes to suit everyone who dares venture there and I can vouch, it's easy to get lost if you haven't got a good map. But the rewards are indescribable, almost.
As for meaning, I think that is different for every person who reads or writes poetry. You may be able to find the definition of the word poetry in a dictionary but there are no books to instantly tell you what poetry means.
I prefer to think of poetry as something born of wonder and dormant emotion. These two combine within the heart to trigger the mind to come up with language. Then it's up to the recipient, the poet, to consciously form the words. The whole process is magical.
More Poetry To Discover
- Anne Sexton and The Poetry of Mental Illness
Anne Sexton's poetry is unique in that it confronts mental illness head on, gives direct access to the heart and soul of a troubled mother, artist and poet. 'I hold back nothing,' she wrote. So true.
- Robert Frost and the Sound of Sense in his Poetry
Robert Frost wrote some memorable poems and became one of America's most popular poets. He sought to produce a 'sound of sense' in his work. But what does this phrase mean?
© 2014 Andrew Spacey