What is Poetry?


Literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas
is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm;
poems collectively or as a genre of literature.
~ Oxford English Dictionary

Dictionary definitions vary widely, some more
elaborate and profound than others. There are
thousands of definitions offered by wordsmiths
across the ages — a Tower of Babel, as many
voices as there are poets.

Definitions fall in a variety of categories:
Succinct — Poetry is language at its most distilled
and most powerful. Rita Dove

Humorous — Poetry: three mismatched shoes at the
entrance of a dark alley. Maxwell Bodenheim

Parody — Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of
hyacinths and biscuits. Carl Sandburg

Abstract — Poetry is the robe, the royal apparel, in which
truth asserts its divine origin. Henry Ward Beecher

Sublime — The world is full of poetry. The air is living with
its spirit; and the waves dance to the music of its melodies,
and sparkle in its brightness. James Gates Percival

Definitions abound, from the mundane to the imaginative,
the nostalgic to the therapeutic, the wildly esoteric and
pretentious, the how-tos of poetry, the forms and techniques.

Without a universal definition might it be that all poetry,
like “all politics,” is local, unique to the individual, defined
by mood and moment? Will today’s definition be the same as
tomorrow’s, next week’s, next year’s?

Was poetry to Mary Oliver constant in meaning, the same
as it would have been for Emily Dickinson? Would W.B.Yeats
have defined poetry as Dylan Thomas might have? Did
William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge share a
common notion of poetry’s purpose?

Must poetry be defined? Doesn’t meaning lie within the
individual poet, always? Isn’t it enough to take up pen and pad,
and write, grant each poem the freedom to find its own meaning,
untethered from the world of a thousand amorphous definitions?

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Simply asks the question, "What is Poetry?"