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What is Poetry?

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October 2009
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A Definition of Poetry

Poetry is one of the most popular forms of creative writing. And yet, writers will never get rich by writing poetry. There are also many ways to write a poem, such as metrical verse, free verse, haiku, and limerick. The most common type is free verse. There are also many different definitions of poetry. Here are few:


  • “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”—Leonard Cohen
  • “Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.” —Kohil Gibran
  • “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”— Robert Frost
  • “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”—Paul Valery
  • “God is the perfect poet.”—Robert Browning
  • “Poetry is life distilled.” Gwendolyn Brooks
  • “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found its words.”—Robert Frost
  • “A poet looks at the world the way he looks at a woman.”—Wallace Stevens.


There is no single definition of a poem. It means different things to different people. Yet, if you analyze a few poems, you will learn that all poems have several common attributes. Most poems include the following:


  • Form. All poems have a particular structure or form. For instance, a poem can be free verse, metrical verse, blank verse, limerick, or epic.
  • Subject. Every poem is about something—life, death, hope, fear, love, and so forth.
  • Rhyme and meter. Some poems have a particular rhyme scheme, such as end rhyme. Other poems have no rhyme scheme. Instead, the poet uses rhythm or meter to create a memorable poem.
  • Diction. Poems are made up of words. These words have a particular meaning.  A word can denote a particular meaning, or have a connotation, an implied meaning.
  • Imagery. Poets use word pictures that appeal to the senses to create meaning. They use words to appeal to sight, sound, touch, smell.
  • Figurative language. Poets use the devices of simile, metaphor, personification, etc., to create a specific meaning and invoke a particular emotional response.
  • Voice and tone. A poem has a particular voice—the person who is speaking in a poem. A poem also has a particular tone. It refers to the poet’s attitude toward the subject and the reader. Tone can be formal or conversational, serious or humorous, and so forth.
  • Line and syntax. The poet uses different line lengths to speed up or slow down the tempo of the poem. He/she can also alter the arrangement of words to create emphasis or invoke an emotional response.
  • Sound. All poems have a particular sound. A poet can use different sound devices to create an emotional response, such as alliteration, assonance, rhyme, and onomatopoeia.

Essentially, a poet composes a poem about a particular subject by using carefully chosen words, poetic devices, figures of speech, and imagery to create deep meaning and an emotional response. 


1 Comment

  1. John says:

    This blog is well done and researched. Thank you for sharing it with your WordPress Poetry family.

    John J. Rigo
    Author and Publisher
    Amidst Series of Poetry Books

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