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August 5, 2011

Poetry Friday--Poetry Is

I recently read an article titled, "The Poetics of History from Below." In it, the author quoted Ann Lauterbach: "Poetry is the aversion to the assertion of power. Poetry is that which resists dominance."

Interesting quote. I read it as meaning poetry is a political statement--be it the politics of a two-person relationship, the politics of society, or everything in between. Did you read it differently?

Many have attempted to define poetry. Here's the Dictionary.com definition:

1. the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.

Here is a sampling of "Poetry is" quotes from poets themselves:

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Poetry: the best words in the best order.

Rita Dove
Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.

Paul Engle
Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.

Robert Frost had several interesting definitions.
Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.

Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.

J. Patrick Lewis
Poetry is the tunnel at the end of the light.

Marianne Moore
Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.

Edgar Allan Poe
Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.

Sandburg, Carl
Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.

William Wordsworth
Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.

Here's my definition: poetry is a story told without the clutter.

Everyone must come up with his or her own definition of poetry. What's yours?

If you're not sure what poetry is, I'm sure you'll have a better idea after you visit the other Poetry Friday postings rounded up by Libby at A Year of Literacy Coaching!

Photo by pindec.


  1. Oh this is a beautiful post. And I love your definition of poetry - a narrative indeed without the frills and the clutter. Thank you for sharing this. Lovely!

  2. It's always fun to try and pin down the unpinnable--but I think your very first suggestion, "festooning self with language" is darn good. My other favorite idea about what makes a good poem comes from Arnold Adoff: "I really want a poem to sprout roses and spit bullets."

    Thanks, Diane!

  3. For me, Lauterbach's definition hints at the open ended quality of poetry. Meaning can be different for each of us, depending on what we bring to the poem. Power and dominance leave no room for interpretation or self-determination.

    I love Sandburg's pairing of poetry and echoes. Thanks for reminding me of his quote!

  4. awesome haiga :)

    Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary - Kahlil Gibran

    much love ...

  5. I agree with Joyce - power is about eliminating an individual's ability to make meaning. And poetry is all about making meaning individually rather than as group-think. In this way, poetry continues to run parallel to music, and should be considered one of the subversive arts!

    I don't often try to define poetry (it's like trying to reach a mirage) but I do tell my students that the clearest statement for me is in the negative: Poetry is NOT information.

  6. I like your negative definition, Julie! But that only leads me to this question--what do you think of the big push to publish books of "poetry" about math and science concepts for use in the schools? I'm conflicted about my Kids of the Homefront Army: Poems of World War II project. One of my goals in writing it was to introduce kids to what was going on at home during the war, so, in a way, I'm providing information. It's very complicated, isn't it?