Have you ever read The Iliad by Homer? Or William Blake’s The Tiger? What about Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley? If you have, that’s wonderful. If you haven’t, you should. But either way, you’re already familiar with concept of poetry.
For, without even knowing it, you started to learn poetry as soon as you started to learn language. Sure, it’s an art form and ancient literary genre. Sometimes it’s even a seemingly impenetrable set text. But at its simplest, poetry is just the expression through words of profound feeling.
Poetry can be challenging and exercise the mind; it can be restorative and good for the soul. It can have any number of conventions, devices and figures of speech woven into it. But the point of poetry is that it changes the way we see the world – and our place in it.
The Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), reckoned that:
“Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.”
As the English Romantic poet, William Wordsworth (1770-1850) had it:
“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”
His friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), said:
“I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is prose: words in their best order; poetry: the best words in the best order.”
But the American poet, E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) must have the final word:
“Well, write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters.”