A Definition of Poetry
Poetry can be said to be a careful, inventive, or creative consideration of words written in order to convey some thought as a literary arrangement. Usually, but not always, the words written are designed to evoke emotion. Poetry can manifest itself as a two-word phrase, spoken word, or a one thousand-page book.
The word poetry comes from ancient Greece. Poieo translated means “I create”. Poetry, when it is well written, goes much deeper than the words on a page. The ability to use written words to create images and feelings in the audience mark the abilities of a great poet. Much like sculptors have stone and painters have canvas, a poet’s medium for expressive art is writing. Poetry is an art using language, but it is also a state of mind.
When many people think of poetry, they think of rhythm and flow. While this is a widely known and accepted form, there are many types of poems that don’t rhyme or follow any direct rules. In fact, some of the greatest and well-loved poets in history pushed the limits and broke the mold of what was considered acceptable prose. Instead, we should consider the ability of those words to speak to us, to make us feel something, rather than what rules they follow.
Also, when something from any art medium stirs feelings and emotions, giving your imagination freedom to roam and consider new possibilities, it is considered poetical. For example, a dance performance can be called poetical for showing rhythm and creating strong feelings by using music and movement. The artists, or dancers in this case, can help control your emotion and the emotion in the room.
So, poetry is a form of art in which expression is used to reveal, interpret, or express things which would otherwise be difficult to express. Poetry moves, speaks, and is written. Whether life, love, nature, or humor, poetry has been used to interpret it. What life cannot express, poetry does. What love cannot articulate, poetry does. What nature and humor cannot say, poetry does in a way that does not duplicate, but complements. Poetry is an interpreter of life.
Many of the oldest known poems show signs of phrases that were meant to be repeated and spoken over and over. This suggests poetry was a way for individuals to remember stories and histories. The rhythm and form would have been an easier way to recall details, important for telling your civilization’s histories. This also would suggest that poetry as an art form predates the written language.
There is some debate about the oldest known surviving poem. Tales of the Shipwrecked Sailor was originally written in Hieratic, which paved the way for Egyptian hieroglyphics. The earliest known writing dates back to 2500 B.C. Even though it was written over 500 years later, there are some who suggest The Epic of Gilgamesh is the earliest known written poem. This Epic was written in Cuneiform, one of the earliest known writing systems.
From there, people began trying to make poetry more aesthetically pleasing, giving it rules and form. Even Aristotle surmised that poetry should fit into three categories; comic, epic, or tragic. Rules were created to help the audience determine which one of these three works fit into. Aristotle’s ideas were used and accepted through the Renaissance, and again studied during the Romantic period.
Modern poetry began to take shape in the 20th century. Artists such as Robert Frost, Walt Whitman and Edward Estlin Cumings began to question the ancient forms and create new forms of expression and prose. All of a sudden, poetry didn’t have to rhyme and it certainly didn’t have to fit into some cookie cutter definitions of what poetry should be. The freedom to express no longer had to fit inside one of three boxes.
Popular Types of Poetry
There are an incredible amount of different types of poems. Many people are familiar with the classic ballads and epics and the romantic Shakespearean sonnets. One form that nearly everyone has heard of is haiku. This old form of Japanese poetry consists of three lines that do not rhyme. The first and third lines must have five syllables while the second line must have seven syllables. This type of poetry must follow these rules to be considered a haiku.
Another well-known type is the limerick. These have been a popular source of entertainment for a couple hundred years. Originally limericks were used to tell crude, funny stories. While they are still used to share humor, they aren’t all off color today, even though the mention of the word limerick tends to make people snicker.
Narrative pieces that speak of battles and warriors are epics. Two of the most famous epics are The Iliad and The Odyssey, which were written about a mythical warrior, Homer. One of the oldest known epics is The Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written around 1800 B.C. It is thought that epics were family stories and generational tales that were handed down through the generations; once a written communication system was in place these epics were written down and physically handed down through the family.
Free verse is a form that breaks the rules about rhythm and rhyme. T.S. Eliot was a master at writing free verse poetry. Many people also overlook the poetic flow of lyrics. Lyrics when placed to music can create some of the most powerful feelings and emotions in people. While you might not remember the first poem you ever read, most people will remember their favorite song, the song they danced to at their wedding, and can even tell you what song they want sung at their funeral.
"An accurate taste in poetry, and in all the other arts… is an acquired talent, which can only be produced by severe thought, and a long continued intercourse with the best models of composition." - William Wordsworth
"I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled poets to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean.” - Socrates
"Poetry has to be something more than a conception of the mind. It has to be a revelation of nature. Conceptions are artificial. Perceptions are essential." - Wallace Stevens
Tips for Writing Poetry
Writing poetry does not have to be a complicated process. When you put pen to paper, let your feelings flow through your fingertips onto the paper. Write everything that comes into your mind, regardless of how it sounds or how jumbled you think it is. This dumping process can help you realize and even sort through your emotions. Once you have everything on paper, you can either throw it away or look at what you have written, and try to piece it together to capture that moment.
Should you chose to thrown it out, you need to get a clear idea of what you want to say. Think about your audience, think about the message you want to give them. If there is a comical story you want to tell, you should consider writing a limerick. If you want to pay tribute to a lost loved one you should elegy. If you aren’t sure what form to follow, you can always compose your thoughts into a free verse. Once you know what you want to say and the correct form to say it in, you begin writing. Draw upon your own feelings and emotions to pull the words from you. When you are emotional about what you are writing, that emotion will shine through and affect your reader.
Remember though, good poetry is in the eye of the beholder.
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