What does poetry mean to you?

Hi everyone,

I appreciate your contributions to the chats about increasing our poetry reading audience, how we keep records, and turning our thoughts to poems about bugs for the wee set. Next up is none other than J. Patrick Lewis, former United States Children’s Poet Laureate. Here is Pat’s suggestion for a topic to chew on.

Robert Frost said that ‘a poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.’ My friend John Barr, former President of the Poetry Foundation, said that a children’s poem ‘begins in delight and ends in delight.’ The definitions of poetry are endless, but do you suppose your readers might be interested in weighing in with their own descriptions of poetry or children’s poetry? Who knows? They might just come up with one as simple yet brilliant as William Carlos Williams’s line: ‘If it ain’t a pleasure, it ain’t a poem.’”

So there you have it. How do you define poetry? Do you define poetry for children differently? I’ll leave this up today and tomorrow.



32 comments on “What does poetry mean to you?

  1. Interesting about the different definitions, David. I wrote this definition a while ago, & try hard to make it true for my poems. “A poet’s words linger longer.”

  2. Over the weekend I attended a workshop with poet Rhina Espaillat, and she defined a poem as “Music made of syllables.” I love that and will use it again.

    Here’s one of my own: “A poem for a child is a different poem than it was last year.”

    Steven Withrow

  3. Children’s poetry is words that are not child-like, but instead let you revisit the child you are. It is to re-experience all that goes in growing even if you have not grown up yet. But still, it holds for you, the wonder and allure of being a child and seeing as a child even if your body has become giant. Most of all, it is language and rhythm that captures something that you may have forgotten but still have. Thank you David and Pat and others for bringing that spirit forward. all the best, Kevin Cordi

    • Hi Kevin. Thanks for coming by today to share your version of children’s poetry. Good conversation going!

  4. Thanks, David! I couldn’t pass up this tempting invitation to weigh in on what is poetry! Here are four poems from my new book-in-progress about the subject of “What Is Poetry?”


    A whisper,
    a shout,
    thoughts turned
    inside out,

    a laugh,
    a sigh,
    an echo
    passing by,

    a rhythm,
    a rhyme,
    a moment
    caught in time,

    a moon,
    a star,
    a glimpse
    of who you are.

    * * *


    A poem is a spider web
    Spun with words of wonder,
    Woven lace held in place
    By whispers made of thunder.

    * * *


    A poem is a busy bee
    Buzzing in your head.
    His hive is full of hidden thoughts
    Waiting to be said.

    His honey comes from your ideas
    That he makes into rhyme.
    He flies around looking for
    What goes on in your mind.

    When it’s time to let him out
    To make some poetry,
    He gathers up your secret thoughts
    And then he sets them free!

    * * *


    A poem is a firefly
    Upon the summer wind.
    Instead of shining where she goes,
    She lights up where she’s been!

    ©Charles Ghigna

  5. Yes, indeed, I subscribe to William Carlos Williams’s definition. I can imagine William Butler Yeats thinking, “bingo! I nailed it” when he wrote those fabulous first 5 lines of The Lake Isle of Innisfree, ending in ” … And live alone in the bee-loud glade.” I figure if my stuff doesn’t give me some pleasure, or even a little catch of the breath, why the hell would anyone else like it. So, maybe that’s actually my definition of what poetry’s all about.

  6. David, I’m so pleased that Pat brought up this topic. (Do you remember when we considered this for one of your HIGHLIGHT’s workshops?) I’ve been including lots of these one-line descriptions of children’s poetry on my blog over the last month–www.poetryforkidsjoy.blogspot.com
    It is so much fun to include these little aphorisms after my poems.
    Writing children’s poetry is warriors work.

  7. These are all fine definitions of poetry, although I happen to be partial to Frost’s definition: ““Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”

    Reading Charles’ poems reminded me of a poem I shared on the Poetry At Play blog several years ago, when I had recently decided to make a concerted effort to become published in children’s lit. Charles had asked the same question you are asking here, and I responded thusly:

    A POEM

    A poem has a heartbeat.
    A poem has a touch.
    One minute it may let you go
    or keep you in its clutch.

    A poem’s breath is subtle,
    each tooth a tapered knife.
    It laughs and cries with open eyes;
    in short, a poem’s…life!

    – © 2015, Matt Forrest Esenwine

  8. Stéphane Mallarme’ said the poet’s central mission is to “purify the words of he tribe.” Dana Gioia writes that “Poetry is the art of using words charged with their utmost meaning.” My own definition: a poem is what remains when the mundane is removed.

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