Poetry 101_ What Is A Poem

Poetry 101: What Is A Poem?


Writers Write shares writing resources and writing tips. In this post, we begin our poetry 101 series and discuss ‘what is a poem?’

So, it turns out I’m going to be writing poems this year. I’m not a poet. At least, I haven’t been one for a while or maybe never, but I am very excited about this challenge. I dabbled with poems a long time ago and I have to admit I am curious to see if I can do it.

To prepare myself, I have decided to go back to the beginning and remind myself of the basics of poetry. Research is my go-to procrastination activity and it helps me wrap my head around things.

What is a poem?

A definition seems to be a good place to start. Google says a poem is, “a piece of writing in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by particular attention to diction (sometimes involving rhyme), rhythm, and imagery.”

And according to Wikipedia “poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.”

These both seem very dry descriptions of works that have inspired tears, solace, joy, rebellion, lust, laughter and death, works that capture the whole spectrum of human emotions.

How do we know it’s a poem?

It is interesting to note that poems are a form of literature that can be identified without being read first, for example we know an essay is an essay only once we’ve read it. But we can say ‘this is poem’ just by looking at it.

So, what do they look like?

A poem looks different:

  1. Mostly the lines of a poem don’t cross the whole page.
  2. The lines, sometimes, but not always, are clustered on the left of the page.
  3. Often the lines are grouped into stanzas.
  4. They have no specific length.
  5. The don’t necessarily have punctuation or capital letters or even follow typical word order.

Now this could very well be a description of a grocery list, at least my grocery lists adhere to most of the above, but what makes it a poem and not a grocery list? It is the language, of course.

  1. Poems use figurative language instead of literal language. We use tools like rhythm and metaphor and symbolism to layer meaning in our poems to distil the essence of what we want to say. A rose is never just a rose, or is it?

And just to share the wonderful, contradictory, playful nature of poetry with you, here is a poem that is a grocery list. (The ‘list’ poem is whole sub-genre, by the way.)

As the weeks progress, we’ll look at these tools in more depth, but I’ll leave you to ponder the definition of poetry for now.

Types Of Poems:

  1. Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – The Villanelle
  2. Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – The Limerick
  3. Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – The Haiku
  4. Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – Free Verse
  5. Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – The Sonnet

The 12 Poems Challenge

You can still join our 12 Poems in 12 Months challenge for 2019. Remember to join the Facebook group: 12 Poems in 12 Months

How it works:

  1. Create a profile. (If you are participating in the 12 Short Stories challenge, please use a new email address.)
  2. You receive a prompt.
  3. You write a poem.
  4. You submit it on the site.
  5. Read and comment on four other poems.
  6. Repeat for 12 months.

Remember our first deadline is 6 February 2019.

Happy poetry writing. Look out for the second post in the series: Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – The Sonnet

Find out more about our Writing Courses

 by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

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This article has 5 comments

  1. Anusuya

    Thank you for starting this series, Mia! I’ll be following it. In fact, I started researching poetry today, too. Read up a few of my old favourites and soon found myself reading tweets on my TL too in rhythm 😉

  2. Annalie

    ?. All my sentiments in your piece Mia! . Except the rules. And BTW – I’m ready.

  3. Pamela Muller

    Hi Mia, I’ve signed up to the 12 poems challenge but I don’t want to publish my poems online because I’d prefer to send them to poetry journals in Ireland and UK. Will this be a problem for you? I’m grateful for the prompts and will attempt to write 12 poems that correspond.
    Kind regards, Pam

  4. Che Andrews

    Great article! Had to look up definition of phonaesthetics: (also spelled phonesthetics in North America) is the study of beauty and pleasantness associated with the sounds of certain words or parts of words. Thanks for sharing this … I needed the inspiration and refresher. I’m too shy about my poetry. The plan is that sometime in 2019 I will submit some of my pieces. That’s a hard one for me to live up to.

  5. Mia Botha

    Thanks for reading, Anusuya. Please share some of your favourites.

    Woohoo, Annalie. That is a great start.

    Hello Pamela, you are welcome to do the challenge in any way you choose. Please note if you don’t post on the site I won’t be able to give you a badge at the end of the year, but you’ll have twelve poems.

    Thanks Che, take your time. Whenever you are ready.

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