First published on www.downrightfiction .com © Trevor Maynard 2012


What is poetry?


I recently tackled this small, gentle and simple question by creating a poll in my discussion group on LinkedIn.  It was to be a bit of fun, nothing too heavy, just an enquiry as to which of five statements you would most align yourself with when answering the question “What is poetry?”  Well, I got that wrong; the answers are not easy, not fun (this is serious man!), and well, people, those of a poetical ilk at least, are not keen to be aligned to anything.   Poetry Is!” a couple of kind souls usefully volunteered.  IS?  That’s a damn short poem, or could we be mischievous and ask is is the plural of I?


Apologies for the digression*, back to the poll; it was limited to five propositions, asking which, for you, came most closely to an answer.  (1) A science of wordplay that can be learnt (2) An emotional expression of the personal (3) Expressing humanity through words (4)Interpreting a higher power beyond us (5) A muse that takes me I know not where.   In the nine days of its existence so far, the poll has received 37 responses, (2) and (3) running neck and neck with 15, and the Muse not far behind in third on 10.  God gets a nod of two, but no-one wants to call poetry a science. 


This surprises me as my feeling is that poetry is, necessarily, a shared experience, therefore I was expecting a significant win for number 3, Humanity. However a significant percentage feels their own emotional expression is the key, while many feel they are enchanted, mystically taken by the Muse, to produce words from the heart.   To explain this, it is necessary to delve into the comments, and this is where the academics weigh in with discussions of form versus content, where the persecuted speak of rhyme being ostracized from the poetic community, and others respond from their ivory towers by scolding don’t ask such trivial questions.    All of which seems to suggest that poetry, and discussion of poetry, are both “expressing humanity through words”.


Delving further, even when respondents are being pedantic, angry, digressing* (very common in social networking discussions), there is a lot of passion out there, so I have had to reassess my posing of the question and my suggestion of the answers.  All five statements have a truth to them for most people, and it was generally regarded that provoking the debate is a serious, difficult, and important action.    


These are some of the gems from the discussion; “what is … anything?”  Poets are “seers of the unknown, they travel strange seas of thought alone”.  Poetry is “a psychological function of embodiment”; “an echo of the sounds of one's heart”; “the silent laughter of the Muse”;  and finally, poetry is “capturing of emotions of the polyrhythms in life by the marriage of words” .


And here are some quotes from famous poets in the subject;  poetry is “the clear expression of mixed feeling” (WH Auden)  “Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words”  (Edgar Allan Poe) "Poetry is a kind of meditation that slows me down and brings me back to myself" (Allen Ginsberg)


Whatever the answer, I still have $10 on Number Three being the winner come the closing date of 31st March, so why not vote yourself and help a starving poet to come spring.


Trevor Maynard runs the group Poetry Review and Discuss on and editor of THE POETIC BOND, available on Amazon and KINDLE.  © Trevor Maynard 2012.