There is no definitive definition of poetry. Wordsworth said it’s "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings;" Emily Dickinson said, "If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry;" and Dylan Thomas claimed: "Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing."
For the fledgling poet or poetry reader, that’s not much help, is it?
To paraphrase one online definition, poetry is writing that evokes intense emotion or an Ah Ha! experience from the reader.
To quote P&S contributor Lee Allen Hill: “The only things that separate bad poetry from bad prose are arbitrary line breaks and mawkish sentimentality.” ( I questioned his use of “mawkish”. He said it was a good word, and he didn’t get much chance to use it.) If you read Lee’s work, you know that his poetry is composed of strong imagery, rhythm, precise word selection and layered meanings. Come to think of it, that could describe his prose, too. He must know what he’s talking about, right?
What I’m getting from all this is that poetry is what the reader says it is. Not the writer. The reader. In cases where the reader is the writer…well, few writers are capable of objectively judging their own work. Just the other day, one poet friend told me she’d gone back into her portfolio and was embarrassed by work that she’d thought brilliant when she’d written it. I know the feeling.
In a final, somewhat desperate attempt to define it, I scribbled the following definition. In poetry, of course.
Susurating sounds sing
Sweet, sibulant sagas.
Merry meter marches,
Rhyming, down the page.
Winsome word-wrought visions--
Vivid inky inklings--
Pictures ‘cross the page.
Fervent feelings flutter,
Flame, or even flounder.
Poet pens pure, potent
Passions on the page.
Could it be that poetry is simply words that paint pictures, pique the senses and stir the emotions? As good a definition as any, don’t you think?