So, What’s a Poem Made of?


Our question this week comes from Katie:

Help me/us understand what makes something poetry -”A Poem?”

Wow, this could take all week! But let me think a minute. Here are a few definitions I’ve hauled around with me for some time:

Poetry is the rhythmic, imaginative expression of intense perceptions of the world. The key word here is perceptions. A poet’s job is to witness and experience the truth around us. It is not to preach or cajole or even express feelings, although well done, a poem conveys feeling. That is, it carries an experience from me to you in such a way that you feel what I feel in a particular instance.

Robert Frost, who certainly knew about feelings in poems, said, “A poem begins as a lump in the throat . . . a homesickness.” Well, that man could bring a lump to your throat. He used all the possibilities of language to bride the gap between poet and reader. He used rhyme and meter, blended sounds in consonance and assonance. And he never preached. Not even about good walls and good neighbors.

Shakespeare, bless him, said it best in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

. . . imagination bodies forth

 The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

 Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

This is a call for particularity, imagination, discovery, and a written structure that yields images in the mind. And compresses it all into what we come to know as a poem.

Great question, Katie. Thanks for chiming in.

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