What is Poetry?
When I read Mina Loy’s description of poetry as “prose bewitched,” I felt like someone had captured the true essence of poetry for the first time.
We often struggle to define abstract or obtuse concepts. One of the greatest and most challenging questions of all time is, what is art? Although dictionaries attempt to define art, no definition quite captures its essence, so artists and thinkers have tried to define art in their own words for centuries.
Like art, the definition of poetry has been explored by writers, thinkers, artists, and poets themselves. So what is it? What is poetry?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary gives us plenty of definitions for the word poetry:
- the writings of a poet : poems
- something that is very beautiful or graceful
- metrical writing : verse
- writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm
- something likened to poetry especially in beauty of expression
With all due respect to Merriam-Webster, I don’t think any of these definitions do poetry justice or truly convey an answer to the question, what is poetry?
I thought I’d take a stab at defining poetry:
Poetry is a linguistic art form that can be written, spoken, or performed. It focuses on the aesthetics of language. It is often composed in verse as opposed to prose and is more concerned with evoking an image or emotion (or both) over clearly communicating a thought or idea. Poetry makes liberal use of literary devices, such as alliteration and metaphor. It is the musicality of language, the rendering of abstract thoughts, ideas, and emotions, rendered with words and sounds. It is pictures painted with words.
As you can see, I can’t capture the essence of poetry any better than a dictionary. Poetry is all of these things and none of these things. There’s a magic in poetry that is difficult to describe in words, even though poetry itself often uses words to create magic.
What is Poetry?
I think we need poetry itself in order to truly convey what poetry is. Mina Loy said it well, so let’s revisit her explanation of poetry:
“Poetry is prose bewitched, a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea.” — Mina Loy.
Do you ever write poetry? Which poems and poets are your favorites? How would you answer the question, what is poetry? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment, and keep writing poetry!