The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

QOTD: What is Poetry?

Write some random words
Assign pretentious meaning
You wrote poetry.
(untitled haiku by J.G. Allan)

We’ve asked you if poetry matters to today’s society, we’ve asked for your favorite poems and poets, we’ve asked about hip-hop and rap’s relationship to poetry, but we have yet to stop, rewind, and ask the square one question itself– What is poetry?

To some, poetry is structure- 14 lines of ten syllables, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, or a 5/7/5 thing. To some, poetry is the freedom of thoughts. Poetry to many people is like pornography to Justice Potter Stewart, they know it when they see it.

Poetry, to me, is not structure. Is not rhythm. Is not solely sound or meter. Nor strict word choice or imagery. It is none of these; It is all of these. Poetry is emotion. Poetry is truth.

Poetry is a feeling you get while reading, while writing, while living.

Poetry is the words of Eliot, the lyrics of Kurt Cobain, the tale of Jay Gatsby or Tyler Durden, and the often irreverent, often painfully truthful autobiographical words of Marshall Mathers…

… but to say poetry exists only on paper is to deny having seen the sunset on the Mississippi, or Muhammad Ali float like a butterfly, the triumph of the Eiffel Tower, the face of a child who is truly and unequivocally happy just to be, or hearing the bells of Big Ben from a hundred feet away, or a pacific island breeze, or smelling freshly mowed grass, tasting the salt of the Caribbean ocean, hearing Samantha Barks sing, seeing Marilyn Monroe walk, or experiencing the simple, momentary miracle of oxygen entering my lungs. Because these moments are not sensations of one sense alone, these moments are life. Life is poetry.

And so I ask you, for better or for worse: What is poetry?

Me. We.

About Jamaal

Lover of words, liver of life, director of theatre, keeper of keys and grounds at Hogwarts. Twitter: @JamaalAllan

14 comments on “QOTD: What is Poetry?

  1. Pingback: Absurd poetry and a fight with a midget! - See Sean Run

    • J. Gabriel Allan
      May 3, 2013

      Absurd poetry
      And a fight with a midget!
      See Sean run.

      Fun and creative-
      A ping from a tumblr blog
      That’s worth a follow.

  2. Doran Simmons
    May 3, 2013

    Poetry is what happens when language conveys more than the actual words can say. Its the transmission of what can’t be nailed down by language. There’s no blueprint.

  3. Ineesa
    May 3, 2013

    Poetry is an investment of time and thought and experience, both
    lived and unlived.

    • J. Gabriel Allan
      May 3, 2013

      Kudos fur sharing. Beautiful.

  4. Stephanie
    May 3, 2013

    Poetry is what you wrote here. “…deny having seen the sun set on the Mississippi…” Poetry is emotion. It is feeling. It is expressing yourself in such a way that your heart, tears, fears, desires, hopes can be seen on the page.

    Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Without poetry, music could not exist. All I can hope to do is pass on the love of language, of expressing oneself, to the next generation. If people realized how deeply immersed in poetry they were everyday just by turning on the radio, they may view poetry in a whole new light.

    “Looking for heaven, found the devil in me.” ~Florence and the Machine, “Shake it Out”

    “Funny you’re the broken one, but I’m the only one who needed saving.” ~Rihanna, “Stay”

    “It’s looking like a limb torn off, or altogether just taken apart… We’re reeling through an endless fall. We are the ever-living ghost of what once was.” ~Band of Horses, “No One’s Gonna Love You”

    “And the highway signs say we’re close but I don’t read those things anymore. I never trusted my own eyes.” ~The Lumineers, “Stubborn Love”

    Poetry is around us all of the time, everyday. People just need to keep their eyes, ears, and minds open.

    “Music [or sung poetry] expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” ~Victor Hugo

    Ears and hearts open
    Words, emotions, love, life, death
    Find us in whispers
    (I have contributed my random words with pretentious meaning to write super awesome poem. You’re welcome. ;))

    • J. Gabriel Allan
      May 3, 2013

      What beautiful thoughts, thank you for sharing your words.

      …and I am particularly fond of the haiku

  5. Robin Wren
    May 3, 2013

    Poetry is the explanation or use of words to describe those life events great small beautiful and tragic experiences of the senses….reading speakin awakens those memories and thrills us with possibilities and sends shivers down or up or spines…hearing a young person “rapping” using words and rythms to evoke sensations emotions that is poetry..using a language form to elicite the feelings one has listening to leafs of a tree in the breeze..that is poetry..describing my aching or joyful heart, my adventurous spirit, the questioning of a god, the mournful wailing of the Goddess, the pain of a forest fire, the thirst of a drought, the death of a mellon…these things are poetry.

    there are many poets that I love but I have never forgotten the poetry of Whitman and most especially e.e. Cummings…..lenses extend on wish through curving wherewhen til unwish returns on its’ unself (it’s been 50 some odd years I think I still have it right.)

  6. Danny
    May 3, 2013

    As far as I can tell poetry is metaphor and simile. Rhyming and cadence don’t so mucn define poetry itself as they do subsets of poetry. If there is solid, surprising metaphor that makes me look at something in a new light, it feels like poetry. Even if it is written in a piece of prose. To the opposite end of the spectrum, there is some really boring shit out there than can be called poetry that feels like I’m reading the yellow pages.

  7. Nicole Rensenbrink
    May 3, 2013

    Poets are people who use words as brushes to create paintings to grok more than understand in any linear sort of way. It’s an art form well beyond my reach. My favorite poet is James Rensenbrink, my father, who is terrific at it.

  8. Matthew Groves
    May 7, 2013

    What is poetry?
    Poetry is Art.
    Poetry is Freedom.
    Freedom to express,
    Freedom of creativity
    Which makes it Art.
    An empty canvas
    Waiting to be filled
    With thoughts

    Too many people have died
    To preserve the freedom
    Of speech to not write
    Or even as much as express
    What makes you different
    And what you feel.

    Poetry is a nonviolent,
    productive method of expression
    that instead of destroying
    Creates something alive and beautiful
    Within itself.

    This is what poetry is to me.

    • J. Gabriel Allan
      May 7, 2013

      What a great response. Simple, yet powerful. The true beauty of words.

      I particularly find myself drawn to the final full stanza.

      Keep writing. Keep reading.

    • Christopher Margolin
      May 7, 2013

      Matt! Well done. This is one of my students. Thank you for responding in here.

  9. Kathryn Tyler
    May 8, 2013


    Poetry is something that comes in from heart that is not quite a song yet.
    It’s something with more of emotion and less drama.
    There are no notes or musical inspiration that comes with poetry
    Poetry inspires music.

    It helps tell people you love them.
    It helps tell people that you hate them.
    It tells what you truly feel.
    The people can read it because you speak it.

    Its from your body.
    Your thoughts.
    Your memories.
    Poetry is you.
    But it’s up to you where to find it,

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