Poetry Is…

So we’re celebrating National Poetry Month, but what exactly are we celebrating? What is poetry? Merriam-Webster defines poetry as such:

1 a : metrical writing : VERSE b : the productions of a poet : POEMS
2 : 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
3 a : something likened to poetry especially in beauty of expression b : poetic quality or aspect

If you like your definitions a bit more random, you can see what Google thinks of poetry. I personally like Carl Sandburg’s take on it, “Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.” Scholars, poets and readers have debated the true definition of poetry for ages, but it may just be that poetry is different things to different people. Whatever poetry is may ultimately be up for grabs, but here’s how just a few writers have thought about it …

“Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.” Samuel Johnson

“Poetry is nothing but healthy speech.” Henry David Thoreau

“Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.” Kahlil Gibran

“Poetry is life distilled.” Gwendolyn Brooks

“Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.” Carl Sandburg

“Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.” Percy Shelley

“Poetry is a rich, full-bodied whistle, cracked ice crunching in pails, the night that numbs the leaf, the duel of two nightingales, the sweet pea that has run wild, Creation’s tears in shoulder blades.” Boris Pasternak

“Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.” Robert Frost

“Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.” Carl Sandburg

“Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.” Edgar Allan Poe

“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” Rita Dove

“Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.” Paul Engle

“Poetry is as precise as geometry.” Gustave Flaubert

“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” Carl Sandburg

“Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.” Marianne Moore

“Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them.” Charles Simic

“…poetry is an evasion of the real job of writing prose.” Sylvia Plath

“Poetry is nobody’s business except the poet’s, and everybody else can fuck off.” Philip Larkin

“Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during the moment.” Carl Sandburg

“Poetry is to hold judgment on your soul.” Henrik Ibsen

“Poetry is the art of substantiating shadows, and of lending existence to nothing.” Edmund Burke

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” T.S. Eliot

“Poetry is the priest of the invisible.” Wallace Stevens

“Poetry is not an opinion expressed. It is a song that rises from a bleeding wound or a smiling mouth.” Kahlil Gibran

11 Responses

  1. excellent!Those are just
    excellent!

    Those are just wonderful quotes. I read them, like it was a long poem in itself. The last one was particularly moving. I’d always thought Philip Larkin was a fine poet, but perhaps not. Though I like the poem Church Going. Also thought Denise Levertov was good; and Sylvia Plath. But I’m old-fashioned, like the lyrical sounds of Sara Teasdale and Edna St. Vincent Millay – may not be well-written, but damn, there’s so much raw feeling the way those girls write.

  2. Poetry Is and Is… and
    Poetry Is and Is… and Is

    Poetry is what gets lost in translation.
    — Robert Frost

    Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.
    — Leonard Cohen

  3. A poem should be palpable and
    A poem should be palpable and mute
    As a globed fruit,

    Dumb
    As old medallions to the thumb,

    Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
    Of casement ledges where the moss has grown–

    A poem should be wordless
    As the flight of birds.

    *
    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs,

    Leaving, as the moon releases
    Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

    Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves.
    Memory by memory the mind–

    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs.

    *
    A poem should be equal to:
    Not true.

    For all the history of grief
    An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

    For love
    The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea–

    A poem should not mean
    But be.

    — Archibald MacLeish

  4. poetry is . . . a dream
    poetry is . . . a dream within a dream

    excerpt from
    A Dream Within A Dream
    by Edgar Allen Poe

    “I stand amid the roar
    Of a surf-tormented shore,
    And I hold within my hand
    Grains of golden sand-
    How few! yet how they creep
    Through my fingers to the deep,
    While I weep- while I weep!
    O God! can I not grasp
    Them with a tighter clasp?
    O God! can I not save
    One from the pitiless wave?
    Is all that we see or seem
    But a dream within a dream?”

  5. more from wallace stevensfrom
    more from wallace stevens

    from Adagia:

    Poetry is a means of redemption.

    Poetry is a purging of the world’s poverty and evil and death. It is a present perfecting, a satisfaction in the irremedial poverty of life.

    Poetry is the statement of a relation between a man and the world.

    Poetry is, (and should be,) for the poet, a source of pleasure and satisfaction, not a source of honors.

  6. A Poem Should BeA poem should
    A Poem Should Be

    A poem should be palpable and mute
    As a globed fruit,

    Dumb
    As old medallions to the thumb,

    Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
    Of casement ledges where the moss has grown–

    A poem should be wordless
    As the flight of birds.

    *
    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs,

    Leaving, as the moon releases
    Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

    Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves.
    Memory by memory the mind–

    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs.

    *
    A poem should be equal to:
    Not true.

    For all the history of grief
    An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

    For love
    The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea–

    A poem should not mean
    But be.

    — Archibald MacLeish

  7. When I read the quotes by
    When I read the quotes by Stevens I was a bit excited to remember Adagia, except the quotes that don’t begin with “poetry is” are the better ones, in my opinion.

    “It is the belief and not the god that counts.”

    “I don’t think we should insist that the poet is normal or, for that matter, that anybody is.”

    “Poetry increases the feeling for reality.”

    “The purpos of poetry is to make life complete in itself.”

    “The mind is the most terrible force in the world principally in this that it is the only force that can defend us against itself.”

    “The poet represents the mind in the act of defending us against itself.”

    “A poem should stimulate the sense of living and of being alive.”

    Well… the whole of Adagia is grand, anyway, and I think you would need to read more about Stevens’s opinions of the “imagination” to put it all into perspective.

    But I’m just being self-indulgent, here. I adore Stevens a bit much.

  8. PoetryPoetry is the epiphet
    Poetry

    Poetry is the epiphet of a moment’s indecision.

  9. A poem for me is the
    A poem for me is the expression of innermost emotion, of thoughts and feelings yearning for expression. The voice of the Atman. The I before me. It is my connection with the eternal stream of consciousness we all share deep within our innermost selves…. us, we, one. A carrot in the celestial soup. A connection with the spiritual and sacred. It is most of all a bridge over the dark void of nothingness, a beacon of hope, a leap of Faith.

    christopher cole

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