The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines poetry as “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.” Huh? What’d he say? Let’s try Wikipedia for a more comprehensive definition. It defines poetry as “a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and [sic] metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaïc ostensible meaning.” Not much better, is it? (No wonder Wikipedia is called the “free” encyclopedia.)
Most of us believe we can identify poetry when we see it—or at least recognize it when we hear it— why then is it so difficult to define? After all, if it rhymes, it’s poetry, right? Not so fast, partner. YourDictionary.com states categorically that there are “over 50 types of poetry.” One of those is Haiku, a form of poetry that originated in Japan. It is the shortest type of poem and, often, the most difficult to understand. It consists of only three lines that generally do not rhyme, and to be correct, the lines should have five, seven, and five syllables in them, respectively. Sonnets, the form of poetry favored by “The Bard,” must contain just fourteen lines—no more, no less. Sometimes, they rhyme, but often they don’t. Does every line rhyme, or just every other line? How many lines are in a verse? How many verses make up a poem? And what exactly is “free” verse? Oh, wait, you say, that’s the kind that doesn’t rhyme at all, right? Wrong. My extensive research indicates that such is not always the case. (So much for that theory.)
Then, there are the rhyming schemes. Most of us have heard the term “iambic pentameter,” but do we really know what it means? Let’s look once more to Wikipedia for the answer. It defines iambic pentameter as “a commonly used type of metrical line in traditional English poetry and verse drama. The term describes the rhythm that the words establish in that line, which is measured in small groups of syllables called ‘feet’. The word ‘iambic’ refers to the type of foot that is used, known as the iamb, which in English is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The word ‘pentameter’ indicates that a line has five of these ‘feet’.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a headache. I think it would be safe to say that poetry can best be defined as a collection of words, strung together in a pleasant-sounding way that may or may not rhyme, which is usually written by young people in love. Or, as the late Andy Griffith might have said in his rich North Carolinian accent, “Poetry is a bunch of words that’s writ in such a way that they just plain sound purty!” Take that, Shakespeare!
Everyone has probably tried writing poetry at some point in their lives—I know I have. Email your best original poem to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll choose my favorite and publish it right here on my blog, the first week in December. The winner will receive an autographed copy of my latest Matt Davis mystery, Broken Promises. Be sure to include your name and mailing address—and keep ’em clean, please!
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