Books, Literature, and Writing
Define Poetry in your Own Words
Updated on September 26, 2015 Andrew Spacey moreAndrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.
Contact Author Define poetry, that’s impossible. But at least let’s try. Poetry is so many things to so many different people so I’ve put together all kinds of definitions, from established poets to those who write and read for pleasure.
If you read or write poetry you may at one time or another have asked yourself the questions: What does this poem mean? Has it a purpose? What is poetry? Where does it come from?
All valid questions to pose. I’ve often been puzzled by the process of writing poetry, especially the initial phase of wanting to write a poem about something that has moved me or caught my attention in an unexpected way.
Other forms of writing seem not to be so mysterious. I can understand why people keep a diary or a journal. Short stories and novels and other fictions are more to do with expressing ideas and following a plot or theme or narrative.
Poetry is something else altogether. It seems to be underpinned by feeling and emotion, it comes from inspiration and takes form as rhythmical language. It’s a world apart from prose.
Poets over the centuries have been pondering the same questions and coming up with answers as bizarre,beautiful and unique as their poems. Take Lawrence Ferlenghetti for example:
‘Poetry is a naked woman, a naked man, and the distance between them.’
I wouldn’t put it quite like that myself but I can see where he’s coming from, I think. Ferlenghetti has other ideas about poetry, which you can read about a little later on in the list of quotes from other poets.
There are also contributions by fellow poets here on HubPages which make for interesting reading. I hope you find much food for thought.
What is the Point of Poetry?
Poetry. What’s the point? What use has a poem? A poem isn’t a tool you can pick up and use like a hammer or a laptop. It’s not something you swallow like medication. But for me poetry does have a use as part of a healing process or use as a preventative, to help us deal with the nasty negative things life can throw at us.
Poetry has a totally different way of entering our hearts and minds. We may only be reading or listening to a poem using our eyes and ears but the effect those words can have goes way beyond anything we can measure or articulate.
It can bring delight, pleasure and puzzlement all at the same time. Some poetry doesn’t come knocking at your door on a routine visit, it bursts in through a window you thought was closed, it flies in like a long lost bird singing a song you’ve never heard before, it quietly makes a space for itself in a silent room you thought was empty.
Poets might shape poetry but it ultimately shapes them and everyone else who comes in to contact with it. This is the point of poetry.
Jodah – Poetry is a gentle river flowing through a rocky and mountainous landscape of prose.
janshares – Poetry is movement; words shifting around within the writer’s soul,coming together in harmonious messages, which move into the reader’s soul.
Towards A Modern Definition of Poetry
Poets and thinkers have been trying to define poetry for thousands of years. Aristotle thought poetry more important than history. Plato thought poets were either inspired or mad and wanted poetry banned because it was a bad influence
English poetry has evolved through time, moving on from Anglo Saxon epic poetry, into tales and themes of love, romance, religion and war. Form and language changed and with it the ideas about what poetry is and what it is for.
Great wordsmiths like Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare took the language into new and exciting territory.
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s In Defence of Poetry (1821) and John Stuart Mill’s What Is Poetry? (1833) were important attempts to bring value to poetry. And the first truly modern universal poet emerged from the U.S.A. – Walt Whitman. Old fashioned structured verse would never be the same again.
As the 20th century progressed free verse poetry took off, coinciding with the start of abstract art and psychological investigation. The inner life became more and more complex as science and technology tightened their grip on society.
Different poetical schools developed each with their own take on the language. Imagist, Concrete, Visual, Black Mountain, Beat, Feminist, Sound…….right on up to today’s Rap and Slam where poetry blurs into music. Alternative and Innovative are right now on the doorstep.
And what of this digital age? Where does poetry stand? Is it easier to define?
Many varied kinds of poetry can be found on the internet, from traditional rhyming verse to long, rambling streams of consciousness. People who had never published poetry before can join in and see their efforts in print, a giant leap forward you might say.
We may not be nearer a universal definition of poetry but one thing cannot be disputed – poetry is far more democratic than it used to be.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Poetry; the best words in the best order.
W.H..Auden – …of the many definitions of poetry, the simplest is still the best: memorable speech.
Dana Goia – Poetry is the art of using words charged with their utmost meaning.
Thomas Gray – Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.
Mary Oliver – Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words,after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.
Sylvia Plath – The blood jet is poetry / There is no stopping it.
Jasper Fforde – Whereas story is processed in the mind in a straightforward manner, poetry bypasses rational thought and goes straight to the limbic system and lights it up like a brush fire. It’s the crack cocaine of the literary world.
Sherman Alexie – Poetry = Anger x Imagination
John Ashbery – I don’t look on poetry as closed works. I feel they’re going on all the time in my head and I occasionally snip off a length.
Sylvia Plath – It’s like water or bread, or something absolutely essential to me. I find my self absolutely fulfilled when I have written a poem.
Stephen Mallarme – It is the job of poetry to clean up our word-clogged reality by creating silences around things.
Being In The World
William Carlos Williams – Poetry must find its primary impetus in local conditions.
David Constantine – Poetry is, to put it mildly, a useful thing if, when reading it, we sense a better way of being in the world.
Maya Angelou – Poetry can tell us what human beings are. It can tell us why we stumble and fall and how, miraculously, we can stand up.
Edwin Morgan – Poetry is a brilliant vibrating interface between the human and the non-human.
Stanley Kunitz – Every new poem is like finding a new bride. Words are so erotic, they never tire of their coupling.
Mick Imlah – Poetry is a way of talking about things that frighten you.
Miroslav Holub – This is one sense of poetry. A little concoction of words against death. It’s almost the instinct against death crystallized.
Gustave Flaubert – There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.
Sylvia Plath – I think my poems immediately come out of the sensuous and emotional experiences I have.
W.B.Yeats – We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.
Dylan Thomas – The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it.
Paul Muldoon – The point of poetry is to be acutely discomforting, to prod and provoke, to poke us in the eye, to punch us in the nose, to knock us of our feet, to take our breath away.
What Is Poetry?A great read, makes you think about the meaning of poetry and what it has to offer.
Buy Now Is Poetry Useless?
Many people consider poetry to be useless. Even some poets have said so – W.H. Auden thought poetry didn’t make anything happen – and to me that is just plain wrong. Poetry has a use, of course it has, but it shouldn’t be measured the way we measure the usefulness of ordinary things, like clocks and chairs and ‘how to’ manuals.
Poetry is art and all art is useful because it evokes and stirs up our emotions. It makes us feel good, brings us to tears, gives us a good laugh, can shock and enlighten us.
Once the poem is down on paper for all to see then comes judgement – good, bad, indifferent. Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English poetry, in typically humorous fashion had something to say about the merits of verse.
“By God,” quod he,” for pleynly, at a word,
Thy drasty rymyng is not worth a toord.”
James Tate – What we want from poetry is to be moved, to be moved from where we now stand.
Seamus Heaney – A poem should take you somewhere different….a poet should be the one least likely to step into the same river twice.
Eamon Grennan – Good poets are the explorers of the world. Out on the frontiers, they send back bulletins.
Language, Beauty and Power
Matthew Arnold – Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance.
Paul Engle – Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power.
Rita Dove – Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.
Percy Bysshe Shelley – Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.
Lawrence Ferlenghetti – Poetry is eternal graffitti written in the heart of everyone.
William Hazlitt – Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself.
Derek Walcott – There is the buried language and there is the individual vocabulary, and the process of poetry is one of excavation and self-discovery.
Simile and Metaphor
Carl Sandburg – Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance.
Adrienne Rich – Poetry is the liquid voice that can wear through stone.
Lawrence Ferlenghetti – Poetry is a quiver on the skin of eternity.
Charles Wright – Poetry is the fox under our shirts that gnaws away at our hearts.Outside we stand firm, inside, we are altered forever.
Les Murray – Poetry is a zoo in which you keep demons and angels.
Pablo Neruda – Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread.
W.S.Merwin – Poetry is like making a joke. if you get one word wrong at the end of a joke, you’ve lost the whole thing.
W.B.Yeats – Poetry is truth seen with passion.
Kathleen Jamie – A poem is an approach towards a truth.
Simon Armitage – Poems don’t have to tell the truth, but they have to be true to themselves.
Spirit and Soul
Lucille Clifton – Poetry speaks to something in us that so wants to be filled. It speaks to the great hunger of the soul.
Edward Hirsch – Poetry connects us to what is deepest in ourselves.
Percy Bysshe Shelley – Poetry is indeed something divine.
Czeslaw Milosz – Poetry has to do with the non rational parts of man.
For a poet, a human being is a mystery. –
this is a religious feeling.
Edgar Allan Poe – To elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.
Wallace Stevens – The poet is the priest of the invisible.
Federico Garcia Lorca – The magic virtue of a poem consists in being always daemon ridden so that it baptises with dark water those who look at it. The daemon? Where is the daemon?
Charles Simic – Poetry says more about the psychic life of an age than any other art.
Muriel Rukeyser – The sources of poetry are in the spirit seeking completeness.
We Read and Write Poetry Because…..Robin Williams as teacher John Keating
JThomp42 – Poetry is the mind, body and soul coming together to say what the heart feels.
Venkatachari M – Poetry…..is the flow of innate feeling through some tuned syllables.
GNelson – If there is one thing I have learned about writing poems, it is that they are never done. Years pass, they sit unfinished. Like children, I always want t help them.
snakeslane – Poetry is a distillation of words and life.
Romeos Quill – Poetry is the oxygen of the soul..
manatita44 – If you listen, the Universe sings with majesty to its own rhapsodies.
William Wordsworth – Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.
Jane Kenyon – The poet’s job is to put into words those feelings we all have that are so deep, so important and yet so difficult to name, to tell the truth in sch a beautiful way,that people cannot live without it.
Neil Astley -…..the essence of poetry is still an interplay of thought and feeling expressed through the sound and rhythm of language.
John Stuart Mill – Poetry is feeling confessing itself to itself.
Leonardo da Vinci – Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.
Meena Alexander – Poetry takes as its purview what is deeply felt and is essentially unsayable; that is the paradox on which the poem necessarily turns.
Audre Lord – ….it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are – until the poem – nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.
Wonder and Mystery
Lucille Clifton – Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.
Nathalie Sarrante – Poetry is what makes the invisible appear.
Charles Bukowski – Poetry is what happens when nothing else can.
T.S. Eliot – Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.
Archibald McLeish – A poem should not mean/ But be.
W.B. Yeats – What can be explained is not poetry.
Michael Longley – If I knew where poems came from, I’d go there.
Elizabeth Bishop – There is a mystery and a surprise and after that a great deal of hard work.
Christopher Logue – Poetry cannot be defined, only experienced.
Charles Simic – Poetry is the imponderable.
Marianne Moore – Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.
William Shakespeare – The form of things unknown, the poet’s pen / Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
John Cage – There is poetry when we realize that we possess nothing.
Healing and Belief
Ted Hughes – Poetry is the voice of spirit and imagination and all that is potential, as well as of the healing benevolence that used to be the privilege of the gods.
Adrian Mitchell – Sometimes a poem can change people’s lives, strengthen and focus people’s beliefs.
Novalis – Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.
What Is Poetry For?
Poetry and Meaning
Poetry is such a vast continent it’ll never be fully explored.There are landscapes to suit everyone who dares venture there and I can vouch, it’s easy to get lost if you haven’t got a good map. But the rewards are indescribable, almost.
As for meaning, I think that is different for every person who reads or writes poetry. You may be able to find the definition of the word poetry in a dictionary but there are no books to instantly tell you what poetry means.
I prefer to think of poetry as something born of wonder and dormant emotion. These two combine within the heart to trigger the mind to come up with language. Then it’s up to the recipient, the poet, to consciously form the words. The whole process is magical.
More Poetry To Discover
Anne Sexton and The Poetry of Mental Illness
Anne Sexton’s poetry is unique in that it confronts mental illness head on, gives direct access to the heart and soul of a troubled mother, artist and poet. ‘I hold back nothing,’ she wrote. So true.
Robert Frost and the Sound of Sense in his Poetry
Robert Frost wrote some memorable poems and became one of America’s most popular poets. He sought to produce a ‘sound of sense’ in his work. But what does this phrase mean?
2014 Andrew Spacey
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Prose PoetrySociety Highs
Poems unplugged and transcending …poetry is the conscious and unconscious outpouring of the Soul to the Universe …poetry is the light of the rainbow riding over the waves of Zion.
Thank you for the mention. God bless your aesthetic beauty. Peace!
Thanks Chef. I hope to post it up sometime next week and get it organized here.
AuthorAndrew Spacey 2 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK
Thank you Kristen, much appreciated. Poetry is so many things to so many people. I look forward to seeing your poems.
Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio
Nice work with this hub, my friend. This was well-organized and beautifully well-written. Thanks for sharing. I’m a former poet and will be sharing my old poetry to HP this spring from time to time. Voted up! What poetry means to me is a way to express how you feel on paper or on computer screen, just like writing songs and putting them to motion.
Gwenneth – thank you for the visit and interesting definition of poetry. I’m amazed at all the wonderful comments.
Gwenneth Leane 3 years ago from Glen Osmond, Adelaide, South Australia Australia
Poetry is the pure thought of the subconscious mind. There is no wordiness of the logic mind. Only the sharp terseness and vivid expression of the inner person
Catherine – thank you for the visit and comment. If life is about discovering new feelings and things in the world then poetry is one of the best tools with which to explore.
Dianna Mendez 3 years ago
Poetry is beauty and brings much pleasure and wisdom to our world. You have mentioned many poets who have brought a sense of balance to our world through their works. It is an emotional experience, as you stated above.
Excellent. Voted up and shared. Poetry is to stir the emotions, to make us understand something in a new way, or to delight us with word-play. Poetry is communication reduced to its essence.
suzettenaples – thank you for the supportive comment, much appreciated.Yes, I enjoyed compiling this hub and learning from the other poets.
Martie Coetser 3 years ago from South Africa
An eye-opening hub about poetry and its meaning. Well-researched and well-written.
Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM
Wow! Yes, this is a brilliant hub about poetry. It is the best I have ever seen written about poetry and the best I have ever read. Your definition is so true and I enjoyed reading the definitions of poetry of all the poets you listed here as well as the ones from HP. You truly understand what poetry is and isn’t. Thank you for explaining your definition of poetry and including all the others. Voted up + and shared all around!
Jodah – thank you for the comment and votes, really appreciate them. I know John Lennon’s song very well having grown up alongside the Fab4. Such vision is rare. I was devastated when I heard of his death, Dec 8th 1980, never forget that date.
John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia
What a wonderful hub promoting our art chef. Thank you also for the mention among all these incredible quotes, many of which are as poetic as the poems themselves. I particularly like this one by Paul Muldoon – “The point of poetry is to be acutely discomforting, to prod and provoke, to poke us in the eye, to punch us in the nose, to knock us of our feet, to take our breath away.”
When I was researching the Beatle’s song “Across the Universe” for a challenge to write a poem based on it, I came across this quote by John Lennon referring to the song. I think it relates here as well “It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best. It’s good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin’ it. See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don’t have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them.” John Lennon.
Anyway, loved this hub. Voted up.
Jamie – I appreciate your visit, thank you. Yes, this hub took longer than I anticipated – it’s an ongoing labour of love!
LadyFiddler – thank you for the visit and mention of Helen Steiner Rice – a truly inspired poet if ever there was one.
Jamie Lee Hamann 3 years ago from Reno NV
Your hub is full of incredible quotes from so many poets. This must have been an incredible quest in the research. I love your hub and will return for inspiration. Jamie
Joanna Chandler 3 years ago from On planet Earth
I can see that you have put a lot of effort and work into this hub. Which is fantastic…. i mainly write poetry and i can only write them under inspiration, wherever i am or whatever i am doing i must stop and take note. If i hesitate the inspiration will go away. For instance i wilk be on the highway i would just look at the sun or mountain and a poem will start flowing in my head.
Helen Steiner Rice was one of the greatest poets ever a truly remarkable soul touching woman. I always loved reading and writing but had i not read Helen’s poem my poetry skills would not have been awakened.
I will say that poetry is : Inspiration that paints word up and down in our minds , it flows like a river and leaves calm ripples on the soul ~ Ladyfiddler
Thanks so much for this hub i will be back to read it thoroughly.
Still a top Hub Chef and a serious contender for HOTD; you’re welcome.
Romeos Quill – I appreciate your support and comment, thank you. You’re quite right, there are many more poets, male and female, I could add. I may well do that in time.
Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England
There are some great quotes you’ve compiled here; the female artists seem to express it very well indeed. Choosing which poets(esses) to sanction couldn’t have been easy to include in one digestible Hub alone as I know that the greats like Donne, Lamb, Blake and Clare might have ventured a worthy contribution.
Thanks for an engaging and entertaining read.
Sharing and pinning.
All the Best;
Sam Deal 3 years ago from Earth
Loved reading the quotes about poetry and its meaning. My favorite was by Thomas Gray.
always exploring – thank you for the comment. Yes, poetry seems to have this deep connection to the feelings, both in creation and reception.
Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois
Poetry is my passion. especially narrative. When I read poetry and it’s deep and meaningful, I am in a zone where my inner feelings come alive with emotion. Thank you. Interesting indeed…
Colleen thank you for the comment. I think poetry does come from a different place, far away perhaps – where a second language exists.
Colleen Swan 3 years ago from County Durham
A lovely hub about what is dear to my heart. Poetry is the wonderful alternative form of expression. It is like saying something in your second language.
Bridget F – thank you for the support, much appreciated.
FaithReaper – thank you for the visit and comment, most appreciated.
Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada
This is a beautiful hub with wonderful quotes about poetry! I’ll be reading it again to absorb all the fascinating thoughts about a great art form. I’ll share this hub.
Bridget F 3 years ago from USA
I love how detailed this is, and inclusive of so many different poets! Great job!
Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California
Such a wonderful compilation of thought on the subject–and from some of my favorite poets–well done!!
Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA
Superb hub, chef!
Thank you for sharing your wonderful insight into poets and poetry. I wanted to answer your question, but you drafted the hub up so quickly, and it is a wonderful hub to enjoy. I loved all of the great poets’ quotes you have included here, especially Sylvia Plath’s …”It’s like water or bread, or something absolutely essential to me. I find my self absolutely fulfilled when I have written a poem.” And then there is our very own, Romeos Quill’s quote, “Poetry is the oxygen of the soul…” He is such a gifted poet just as many others here on HP!
Voted up and more tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing Well, I will have to return to pin as it is saying “Oops” for some reason 🙁
Thank God for poetry!
AuthorAndrew Spacey 3 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK
janshares – your voice is part of the great poetic choir! Thank you for the vote up and good energy for your work.
annart – thank you for the comment. I like your reference to frames and painting over lines when the feeling takes us.
RachaelOhalloran – you’ve done well to pick a favourite out of all those! But Emily D is special isn’t she?
lambservant – I appreciate your visit and comment, thank you. Good luck with the poems…eventually the rewards far outweigh the frustrations.
Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest
Wonderful with a capital W. I love poetry. I am not very great at it, but the challenge of expressing emotions I find either frustrating or rewarding.
Rachael O’Halloran 3 years ago from United States
Oh my word – the amount of research you have put into this article is amazing! I was captivated by how each poet described poetry and their views. I wanted to pick a favorite and it was hard, but this is the one I chose because it comes close to my own feelings.
Emily Dickinson – If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.
Voted up, awesome, interesting, useful and SHARED!!
Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England
This is brilliant! You’ve done such a great job here of putting together varied quotes in relevant sections. I was fascinated.
I love your words, ‘it bursts in through a window you thought was closed, it flies in like a long lost bird singing a song you’ve never heard before, it quietly makes a space for itself in a silent room you thought was empty.’
I love poetry. For me, it is an outlet of emotions within a disciplined frame. We have structured forms but we can paint over the lines when we want.
Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC
This is a brilliant hub about poetry, chef-de-jour. You did an excellent job on this, educational and informative. It makes me realize the infinity of poetry. I appreciate the shout out among all these famous quotes. Voted up, useful, beautiful, and sharing!