What is Poetry?

I was asked yesterday, “what is poetry?”

Such a simple question, but it floored me.

I guess it is like asking a musician “what is music?”.

For me, the definition has always been implicit within the word; so I just write. I had never really stopped to think about the definition or technicalities. After a moment of mild panic and discomfort, I pondered, scratched my chin and wrote down this:

Poetry is a symphony of the heart
A moment in time
A little verse or rhyme                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
of ideas formed inside.

I looked at it. It was missing something. I left it and than researched reflections from other poets. Adrienne Rich once eloquently stated, “every poem breaks a silence that had to be overcome” ( 2003, pp 85). This made me think further, following I found a piece of work by Ted Kooser who quite simply states – “poetry is communication” (2005). Again a realisation dawned, that within every poem there is a thought or idea that needs to be conveyed.

I’ve always thought of poetry as something deeply personal but the output is much more gratuitous than that. It is a way of transposing an idea and thought gracefully. Consciously, I now reflect this implies engagement from the audience. If overly ambiguous the reader will be lost. And what is a poem without the reader? Can I just write for me? As Rich states: without the one who listens, who reads (the active participant) the poem is never finished, (2003, 85). This relationship with the reader again becomes quantified.

My three year old daughter looked at me the other night and asked what I was doing, “writing poetry”, again the question arose, “what is poetry?”. Hmm if I have to be able to explain it to a three year old, the definition needed to be a lot simpler, “poetry is a beautifully written story.” Too simple? Without getting too hung up on definitions but more for interest sake, I ask you, what is poetry? Does thinking about this make you approach it differently?

I’ll guess I soon find out if this changes my writing style.


7 thoughts on “What is Poetry?

  1. Poetry to me…an emotion, a thought, a feeling..desire,pain,hope,fantasy..at times wisdoms cryptically and beautifully painted…succinct…deep…often it is my inner voice…or the voice I need to hear…

  2. As good a definition as I’ve read. I personally adopted Frost’s, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words”.

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