Exploring poetry

What is poetry?

Poetry is a form of literature. It is often distinguished from prose which tends to operate in a standard grammatical manner that replicates speech. The text you are reading now is prose. Poems, on the other hand, favour stylistics over straightforward meaning. Therefore, poems will often – although by no means always – use meter, or word rhythm, as well as rhyming, to make more of an overall impact. Like prose, poetry can make use of similes, metaphors and alliteration. It will often use such linguistic methods as well as phonaesthetics, or the beauty of a word – or combination of them – as they are sounded. Though poetry can be read, and some of it is designed to be seen on the page, much of it is written to be read aloud or performed.

 What isn't poetry?

Given that there is an extensive definition of poetry, it is hard to draw a distinction between prose and poetry that works in all cases. Most readers now accept that a very prosaic textbook could have elements of poetry in it and that, conversely, some poems are deliberately prosaic. Usually, it is the writer's stated intention that counts but this is often left ambiguous, too. Some musical composers, notably in the late Romantic tradition, made wordless musical poems, known as tone poems, often musical interpretations of famous poems. Lyrics – the words that go with songs – are not often considered to be poems. That said, some lyrics can stand alone without music which gives them a poetry-like status.

Where did poetry come from?

Nearly all prehistoric societies were thought to have used poetry even before they developed writing systems to store information. Therefore, poetry is a literary form which pre-dates literature itself. One of the earliest recorded forms of poetry dates back 5,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. In Europe, old languages, like Welsh, used poetic forms to store information about history and culture and pass them down through the generations. Famously, Homer, in ancient Greece, is said to have not invented his famous epic poems but to have adapted them from older, oral traditions.

Why does poetry matter?

Poemes constitute our oldest art form except for, perhaps, dance. Consequently, they put us in a more direct tradition with ancient people than just about anything else. Some people never care for poetry and ignore it. However, this does not mean that it doesn't matter to others. Many people will find a poem here or there in their lives that speaks to them more profoundly than any other form of literature.

What are the common forms of poetry?

There are many types of poem,s and too many to mention here. In China, shi poetry is popular as is haiku and tanka in Japan. In the West, limericks, sonnets and villanelles are all common forms. The ghazal is a poem form that has been around for centuries in the Middle East.

Discussions and topics about Poetry

  • I keep coming across wonderful poems which open my eyes to the beauty in the world, remind me of lessons I have long forgotten, make me smell the flowers and open my heart with gratitude. So I th ...
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