Is This A Poem? 7 Ways To Tell
‘Dear Orna,’ writes Terry, a long time subscriber. ‘I have been writing these things for years – I call them poems. But I’m not sure if they are because they don’t rhyme or use verse. What do you think?’
While formalised rhyme, rhythm and metre (as here) are associated with poetry, no single literary technique guarantees that a concoction of words becomes a poem. As much doggerel has been written in rhyme as in free verse.
I don’t believe it’s up to me to tell Terry whether what he has written is poetry. What I can offer is seven criteria by which he – or you – can assess a piece of writing and decide.
For me, it’s not a poem if it isn’t:
- Passionate. The poet has deeply connected with something he or she has experienced or witnessed — and passionately wants the reader to apprehend it in the same way.
- Musical. It may not be obvious – the preference in our age is that it is not – but a poem will have an subterranean beat underwriting its subject matter and the (half-)rhymes, assonances and alliterations that call attention to the poet’s intention.
- Integrated. The word choices and imagery are appropriate to form and subject.
- Unified. It embodies a wholeness greater than the sum of its parts.
- Open to Interpretation. No didactism or preaching. A poem is never a soapbox.
- Pithy. Not necessarily short or simple (think of Dickenson’s conundrums, Milton’s monumental epics, Chaucer’s exuberance…) but it will have strong nouns and verbs — and no verbiage.
- Symbolic. It uses metaphor to invoke a meaning wider and deeper than its ostensible subject.
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Read some of Orna’s latest poems here.
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