How do you define a poem?

I was thinking about all the different ways we shape our poems, in terms of length, stanza, white space, rhyming, not rhyming metaphors, or literal, and I was thinking what is the basic structure. What must a poem have to be called a poem, especially now that there are pros poems?(They probably have always been around but it is new to me.) There was this image or sound in my head about what is a poem growing up, haikus, limerick, lyrical, sonnets and all these poems have rules you must follow. What about poems that have no rules? Is it acceptable for me to write something and say this is a poem? I am begging to think it is more of the way a piece read or makes readers feel when reading. Poetry is ever changing and growing, This could be a poem about poetry, possibly. There are many things that are poetry but what is not poetry? Even in asking that question I realize that everything is poetry, everything has something about it that is poetic. But what screams I AM NOT POETRY.

3 Replies to “How do you define a poem?”

  1. Maiah,

    This is a great question to ask. I’m more of a creative nonfiction person, though I’ve focused on poetry for the past year or so, and I’ve noticed that the difference is in the cadence and the breath…prose is like normal speech, though it can be classified as lyrical or narrative, but poetry has a certain rhythm and well-crafted cadence to it (even if it is an entirely experimental free-verse poem). I’ve noticed that even prose poetry has a specific rhythm to it that is unique to poetry. Words, syllables, spaces and lines matter exponentially more in poetry than they do in prose (arguably).

    For me, it mainly returns to the idea of breath. Prose feels like natural, paced breath and poetry can be short, rapid breath or gasping-due-to-lack-of-oxygen…the breath is meticulously crafted in the words and in the line.

    To me, this seems like the smallest and broadest unit of a poem that helps me make sense of what is poetry and what isn’t.

  2. I’ve always gone by the idea that poetry has no rules. IMO, to say something “isn’t poetry” is very similar to saying something “isn’t art”–it’s an act of elitism

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