Introduction: What Is Poetry?
(printable version here)
Poetry is a form of writing that is more expressive and creative than an essay. As Dictionary.com would define poetry, it is "the art of rhythmical composition" and literary work with a defined meter. For some, poetry is something to be dreaded; for others, it is merely something to be appreciated from afar.
Our goal with this webpage is to provide information on what poetry is and how one goes about creating it. By glancing at the rest of the information provided on this site, even the most fearful student attempting to write poetry can gain some confidence and reassurance that it isn't as daunting as it seems. Here you can read about some common errors in poetry writing, UR faculty pet peeves, and advice from poets themselves. Also included is a sample poem written by a student with faculty commentary provided, to give you a professor's perspective on reviewing a poetry assignment.
It's not as scary as it seems...
It is quite normal for people to assume certain things about poetry before they are properly introduced to the subject. Most of the time, those myths and misconceptions are incorrect. When someone thinks about "poetry" she might think that it has to rhyme, have a certain amount of lines, be really depressing, or have some kind of deep, hidden meaning. Below are some responses from faculty and professional poets about the topic of poetry to clear up some of these misconceptions.
Q: What are some misconceptions of poetry?
Dr. Sascha Feinstein: Lycoming College Faculty, Poet
A: For about 100 years-ever since Eliot-many people have assumed that poetry must be obscure in order for it to be powerful. They also think that an unclear dramatic context results in a wider audience. As a result, a lot of poems rely on generalities.
One way to break through this misconception is to point out that we cannot house, emotionally, the thought of 6 million people being murdered. We can't even imagine the deaths of 6,000, or 600, or just 60, you know? The numbers are too big, and so we lose any intimate connection to humanity. But if I were to tell you a story about my friend's grandmother who survived Auschwitz-her name, how they blinded her after she watched soldiers shoot her daughter-I'd have all your attention. We respond to personal history with clear contexts. That's when we feel, and, through feeling, that's why we remember. We experience global issues through precise details.
One last thing: Poems tend to be taught as though they're puzzles. Figure out the key, and you've unlocked all the poem has to offer. Ergo, in Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," sleep must equal death (even though Frost himself insisted the poem was not about death). It's summed up this way: "I've got lots to do before I die." Done. Digested. Mission accomplished. Yet the poem is not just a fortune-cookie statement about obligation. (Why spend so much time on the horse if it's merely about the speaker and his work?) No, the poem addresses our human position on this planet: What makes us respond to beauty for the sake of beauty, and doesn't that help define us as human beings? It raises enormous issues that should never be summed up simplistically. But, of course, a lot of teachers and reader fear loose ends; they'd rather "get" the poem than consider its spiraling questions.
Professor Tarfia Faizullah: University of Richmond Faculty, Poet
- it must be vague
- it must be abstract
- it must be "deep"
- it has to rhyme
- the language has to be fractured
- the subject matter must be lofty or highly philosophical
- the language must be lofty or highly philosophical
Caitlyn Paley: University of Richmond Alum '09, Poet
A: Poetry isn't reserved for momentous occasions; some of the best poems are about everyday observations and objects.
Our thanks to Dr. Feinstein, Professor Faizullah, and Ms. Paley for their assistance!
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