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ENGL 2240: Module 2: POETRY


How does one define poetry?  Is it by easily identifiable visual characteristics like shortened lines, stanzas, structure, or something auditory like rhythm or rime?  Or something else entirely?

Some of our most famous poets had some very interesting definitions of poetry:

Robert Frost

"Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought had found its words."

Mary Oliver

"Poetry isn't a profession, it's a way of life.  It's an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that."

Dylan Thomas

"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 world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever ll your own."

One of the primary objectives of this course is to develop our own personal definition of poetry, to gain an appreciation of poetry through the artistry of its makers, their creativity and usage of words, relish the interplay between truth and emotion, to develop our analytical and interpretive skills, but mostly we simply want to stand back and look at the ever-evolving definition of poetry, look at poets whose works helped both to create and to destroy definitions of poetry, works that shatter us to our core, force us to examine not only the world around us, but also turn that examination inward, upon ourselves, to discover our own personal truths and the beauty behind them.

In the preface to the second edition of their work Lyrical Ballads (1800), British poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth provided us with this definition of poetry:

"the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" [saying] that poetry should be written in "the language really used by men."

Poetry is meant to be evocative, or to evoke a response in its reader.  Be it an emotional response like joy, sadness, regret; or, one of cognition, making a connection, and exploring our innermost thoughts and feelings; or, finally, finding a nugget of truth, of wisdom, of reality.