A Guide to
What is poetry? According to the
Merriam-Webster Dictionary, poetry is writing that
formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of
experience in language chosen and arranged to create a
specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and
rhythm. The problem and beauty of poetry are, however,
difficult to define. The dictionary
gives us only a glimpse into the mystical qualities of
well crafted verse.
Poetry is the oldest known form of
literature. In ancient times, few people could read and
write. Verses with rhythm and rhyme
were much easier to memorize than prose. Historical
accounts, legends, and amusing stories were often
composed in poetic form and handed down orally from
generation to generation. Traveling bards and scops
entertained and instructed with their poems and were much
respected by their audiences.
Poetry is many things to many people.
William Wordsworth, the father of the English Romantic
movement, defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of
powerful emotions.” The famous Irish poet William Butler
Yeats felt that a line of poetry should seem spontaneous,
even though that single line might take hours to craft.
Dylan Thomas said, “Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry
or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me
want to do this or that or nothing.”
Even famous poets have difficulty grasping
the exact definition of poetry, although they all agree
that the words in a poem should be powerful, capable of
conveying the poet’s thoughts and sharing them with
readers in a very personal way. A poem might make readers
laugh or cry, or it might conjure up a poignant memory.
It might instruct, entertain, or simply share an
experience, one human to another.
Above all, poetry should use concise
language. In other words, the individual words of the
poet should be carefully chosen to convey imagery. They
should be able to help the reader picture a scene, feel a
texture, hear a sound, smell a scent, or almost be able
to taste a food described. This is called sensory
imagery, and it is an important aspect of