There are as many definitions of poetry as there are poets. Wordsworth defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings;" Emily Dickinson said, "If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry;" and Dylan Thomas defined poetry this way: "Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing."
Poetry is a lot of things to a lot of people. Homer's epic,The Odyssey, described the wanderings of the adventurer, Odysseus, and has been called the greatest story ever told. During the English Renaissance, dramatic poets like John Milton, Christopher Marlowe, and of course Shakespeare gave us enough to fill textbooks, lecture halls, and universities. Poems from the romantic period include Goethe's Faust (1808), Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" and John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn."
Shall I go on? Because in order to do so, I would have to continue through 19th century Japanese poetry, early Americans that include Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot, postmodernism, experimentalists, slam...
So what is poetry?
Perhaps the characteristic most central to the definition of poetry is its unwillingness to be defined, labeled, or nailed down. But let's not let that stop us, shall we? It's about time someone wrestled poetry to the ground and slapped a sign on its back reading, "I'm poetry. Kick me here."
Poetry is the chiseled marble of language; it's a paint-spattered canvas - but the poet uses words instead of paint, and the canvas is you. Poetic definitions of poetry kind of spiral in on themselves, however, like a dog eating itself from the tail up. Let's get nitty. Let's, in fact, get gritty. I believe we can render an accessible definition of poetry by simply looking at its form and its purpose:
One of the most definable characteristics of the poetic form is economy of language. Poets are miserly and unrelentingly critical in the way...
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