• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

What is Poetry?

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Poetic Licence

Kate Dempsey

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I’ve been writing poetry for maybe 11 years now and I’m still wondering what exactly it is. It’s hard to define. I’ve read and heard some poems recently that made me question where is the line between an interesting and emotive story as a piece of prose or an amusing anecdote with parallels and a poem.

If you Google “What is a poem,” (I just did) you get a lot of different answers and some more questions.

Wikipedia, that grande-dame of the internet box of knowledge says Poetry (from the Greek “ποίησις”, , a “making”) is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning.

Overall, there are many mentions of musicality, rhythm and sound, ability to create a mood or evoke an emotion and the use of underlying meanings and allusions. Poems often use symbolism, similes and metaphors as well as sound and rhythm devices such as onomatopoeia, meter, assonance, alliteration and, of course, rhyme. But what distinguishes poetry from literary prose?

Poems can play games with words, with grammar. Try removing all the the’s from your poem. You don’t need full sentences, punctuation can be full on or sparse. Adjectives and adverbs, as with other forms of writing, should be considered. Often you can use one clear word in place of an adjective-noun combination or adverb-verb. (Run quickly – sprint, speed, dash) Use a good thesaurus.

Poems are usually thoughtfully laid out on the page. Line endings matter, they mean something. The poet has chosen the layout for specific reasons. Stanzas (verses) are more than just a poetic paragraph. And knowing when to end a line or start a new stanza I think is something that comes only with practice. And with reading other poets carefully.

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