Based on the examples from this week, we can see that poetry is simply art using words. So in its most fundamental form, a poem is a collection of words artfully arranged, usually with an underlying purpose. While this description is vague, it must be due to the wide variety in form and content. It is distinguished from other literary genres, such as fiction writing, by an emphasis on imagery and observation rather than story and character (though these can also exist in poems). Traditionally they are arranged into stanzas (“Incident,” “Bertha in the Lane,” etc.) and most often use strong imagery (“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”), but these are not hard and fast rules. In terms of content, the sky is the limit. Just in this week’s batch of poems, there are pieces about the afterlife (“Heavenly Cities”), the relationship between two sisters (“Bertha in the Lane”), an uncomfortable lunch (“Hysteria”), and childhood experiences with racism (“The Incident”). Poetry can take so many forms and have so many purposes that a concrete definition is difficult to pin down.
When looking through other people’s definitions, I found Natalie’s to be the most similar to mine. She wrote that “poetry is using words to convey something (maybe a feeling, a place, an event, or a person…) in a way that our perceived “laws” of language do not allow.” I agree that poetry often steps outside of the bounds of colloquial speech and that the form of poetry is extremely broad, but I would’t say that poetry as a whole necessarily breaks language rules, it just has different, looser ones. For example, in academic writing, thoughts and discussions are separated by paragraphs, in poetry they are often separated by stanzas, and in speech they are separated by pauses (if at all).
KAT’s was also very intriguing to me, since they chose to distinguish poetry in a very different way. Their basic idea was very open ended, listing poetry as “an art that using words.” However, when looking to compare poetry to other types of literature, they chose to use the poem’s sub-genre as a guide. They write “We can sort of recognize the difference between genres by looking for Standard rules of capitalization in prose poetry, rhymes in narrative poems, or try to count the syllables for blank verse in Shakespeare’s dramatic poems.” So, rather than finding some ephemeral essence of poetry and using that to differentiate between a novel and a poem, an approach using more specific structures may be more helpful to the novice.
I think that Jimmy’s post has a very interesting comparison that can shed some light on poetry’s place in literature. The blogpost reads: “rather than emphasizing the story as a novel would poetry emphasizes […] provoking a response much like a painting would.” While novels can also provoke a response, I loved the comparison to a painting and I’d like to add to it; for me, it seems that if poetry is a painting, other literary genres are posters. Paintings and posters are composed very similarly, using rules of color, balance, and composition. The main difference is time — for a poster, it is designed so that the viewer understands its message as quickly as possible, while a painting can be viewed at a more leisurely pace. More detail can be put into it and more diverse moods expressed.
So, if we use this metaphor for fiction and poetry, fiction often has a clearer message and many adhere to clear plot structures while poetry has more space to “breathe” and be enjoyed. Now, in both cases these are generalities — there are simple paintings and experimental posters, just as there are fast poems and freeform fiction, but at the end of the day, a poster is a poster and a painting is a painting.