What is poetry? Believe it or not, most people struggle to answer this question, most times individuals will give their interpretation as opposed to a solid definition. Even the major dictionaries differ at times in defining what a poem is. If you haven’t already, ask yourself. What is poetry? Can poetry be more than just a literary definition? Here’s what a few popular dictionaries have to say. Webster’s dictionary describes poetry as
metrical writing // writing that formulates a concentration imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.
The Oxford dictionary describes it as “Literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.” If you look at the Macmillan dictionary, Cambridge dictionary, and Collins dictionary as well, all five-mention rhythm. This means the only trait each dictionary feels is important to mention in its definition of poetry is rhythm. The Norton Introduction to literature recognizes that trying to describe poetry is “a bit like trying to catch snowflakes; you can do it but at the very same moment the snowflake begins to melt and disappear” (Mays). It is good to know a brief etymology of the word poetry. It’s rooted in the ancient Greek word poiesis which means “to make” a verb or action word. It also stems from the French word poete and more directly from the Latin words poeta and poetria. These variations mean; “to create,” “build,” “pile up,” and “to an order”. For example, the shortest poem was ever written by the boxing legend Mohammad Ali is “Me? / Whee!” It’s only two words but these two words express community, appreciation as well as togetherness. Many different countries and cultures define poetry in different ways. But can poetry be more than just a piece of literary work?
Poetry is about creating something beautiful and meaningful. It’s not about confusing people or using sophisticated vocabulary it’s about meaning. Poetry can be very simple and simply understood. Poetry is so complex that it can’t be tied down by a single definition. The ammunition one could say that makes a weapon like poetry so powerful is the use of language. As Brodsky describes “Poetry is what every language hopes to become” (Dings). Poetry is a different way of using language. Poets use the verses in poems to talk about and transmit cultural information that is even present in today’s modern era. And while poetry was initially just spoken orally. Later, when the first forms of literacy came into being, soon after the poems began to be written down. In modern-day poetry, we can see the original form of sung poetry with today’s rap culture. Artists like B.I.G, Tupac Shakur and Ice, have helped the populists see that rap isn’t just music. Tupac uses his music to describe his gangster lifestyle. His song “Changes” is amongst his more famous works. He uses this song to voice major issues faced by the African-American community like racism and poverty and how they affect their everyday lives. If you listen to the words used, you can hear the poetry and can hear the message they are sending. That the racism and poverty being faced in the African-American community need to be dealt with. In the lyrics “I’m tired of being poor and even worse I’m black.” Tupac makes a connection with the color of his skin and being poor. Then be goes on to explain how being poor relates to crime: “My stomach hurts, so I’m lookin’ for a purse to snatch.” However, Tupac does say who is causing the problem, all he expresses is the solution. Which he describes as unity, the unity of the African-American community. This is what makes poetry so special, it has no set boundaries.
However, poetry can be found not only in a literary sense or in music. We can also see poetry present in the popular topic of politics. In the last couple of years since the 2016 presidential election the use of poetry to express the political view of others and to protest as well. In the times of Plato and Aristotle poets were not able to participate in political debates. Unless they agreed to be censored by philosophers and politicians because poets and their poems were seen to draw in and corrupt with their sentimentality and compulsiveness (Issacs).
In today’s modern world poetry isn’t seen as a threat to politics, but a form of protest. Though poetry has not been a threat in today’s world, it is still a weapon that can be used to call attention and petition to get others to see your view on a situation. Going along with the political with the ideas that philosophers deemed poetry as a way in which poets corrupted others, drawing them away from moral and ethical rights. The conflict between philosophy and poetry only seems to be an issue is when a philosopher builds an abstract. A republic in which morality and truth take precedence over everything. Poetry and philosophy will never have a relationship like that of a parent and their child. The main reason behind this is poetry will assume its beliefs but will never prove them. Poetries inability to provide evidence on their beliefs causes conflict with philosophers and their philosophies. However, philosophy can do the same thing poetry does, it just happens less often.
The reason one could say that people have such a hard time defining poetry is that it doesn’t have a singular definition. While poetry is form, meter, rhyme, simile, and metaphor. It can also be music, art, even nature. Poetry can be a disaster and madness. The joy and sorrow we feel daily. Poetry can be the journey we take and even some of our accomplishments. So, the question you must ask yourself is. What is poetry to me?