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What is poetry

by Suzette Richards

What sets poetry apart from regular prose, or everyday communication, is that it has an element of rhythm created by the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables (the metre) in a line, and has its own unique language, for example, the use of alliteration. Historically speaking, songs came first before the written word. Therefore, rhythm and sound have primacy over meaning.

The golden rule for all poets is that in order to improve their writing, they need to read poetry written, preferably, by as wide a range of poets as possible. On first reading, a good poem should evoke images that we perhaps identify with or an emotion that moves us. Research has shown that if you have not hooked a reader within eight seconds of reading your novel, you’ve lost him. More so with poetry: The overall length and the layout of the poem will influence your readers, as well as the topic and poetic form chosen—even the title, invariably a signpost of the direction the poem would take. When reading poetry we do not, as a rule, concentrate on the devices employed by the poet when he wrote the poem. But, unless one has a clear understanding of poetic devices, for example, metaphor and symbolism, many poems can’t be fully understood, and as a poet, these skills are well worth mastering.

Poetry is a creative personal expression. It might take the form of various formats, or have open form. No two sunsets are identical and the poet strives to paint a picture having no parallel, with mere words. The search for the right words to express the moment can be an agonising process for any poet, especially in the light of the fact that clichés, forced rhyme, and dead metaphors are frowned upon.

Not all poetry rhymes and all rhymes do not constitute poetry. Rhyme refers to the various kinds of phonetic similarities between words, and the degree to which these devices are used in organised verse—it lends rhythm to poetry. The pattern of rhyme is referred to as the rhyme scheme. Generally speaking, a poetic form can be identified by the rhyme scheme it has employed. The traditional way to mark these patterns of rhyme is to assign a letter of the alphabet to each rhyming sound at the end of the line. It is important to know what is accepted as a rhyme or not.

Lastly, writing a poem is like flying a kite: From the onset, you know what tone and form it would take; the trick is to gradually add the details, just enough to make it possible to fly while tucking at the reader's heartstrings. And most importantly: to know when to stop. Let the readers’ imagination colour in the details.

As always, I say it best through my poetry. This Suzette Prime poem sums it up to a T.


it’s not a jumble of words

not glorified rhyme

not your thoughts jammed down my throat

or your ideologies displayed on the world stage



balm to my bruised soul

the oil on troubled waters     

that lifts my spirit like no other entity could


poetry is mathematics of literature 

it helps me to organise thoughts succinctly

plan ahead



poetry inspires me to

dig deep for new metaphoric expression

discard the mundane

see my world in a new light


if poetry doesn’t move you

to laugh

to cry

to want to pull your hair out

above all: to lift your head out of the sand

then check for a pulse

you might

very well be dead

NB Poetry has 3 syllables, but poetry’s has only 2 syllables, and poetic has 3 syllables