What is Poetry?

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the dermatologist getting a check-up. The process went smoothly, until the doctor asked me:

“So what are you majoring in at school?”

“English,” I responded.

“Oh, nice! Is there a particular field within English that you are focusing on?”

“I suppose poetry…”

And here’s what went down next:

“Poetry, huh? I like poems that rhyme. You study those?”

I told him not necessarily, and that poems don’t always have to rhyme in order to be perceived as poetry.

He continued, with a shrug,

“Ah, too bad. I like poems that rhyme. They’re fun and enjoyable.”

I also continued to justify my reasons for poetry: it’s not like I completely reject poems that rhyme, but they aren’t the only poems out there. It’s not like those from the ancient, Old English or medieval times were not lyrical; in actuality, a good handful of them did not rhyme.

Yes, I know that my doctor specializes in skin, and that his passion is completely dissonant with my passion with the poetic world. But I did find his insistent proclivity to rhyming poems somewhat troubling, for I wondered if other people, who aren’t invested in literature like him, think the very same way? I wondered if my parents, my (non-English) friends, or acquaintances thought like this, and I speculate at these possibilities.


For I believe that not all poems have to rhyme in Dr. Seussian fashion, and that when one tries to make a rhyming poem, not only is it difficult to think of words to pair up with, but it also seems kind of…contrived. Forced. Unnatural. And that detracts from the nature of the poem’s beauty.

I profess, I prefer un-rhyming poems over those of rhyming. Not to say that I don’t like the latter, but I do find its rhythm rather distracting from the language, which I perceive to be the essence of a poem. When I write poems, I extremely rarely make them rhyme; the very large majority does not rhyme. My style is lyrical, sensual, filled with brighter than bright images and crammed with enjambments that flow verse to verse in a continuous stream of melodies. That, my dear, is what I love.

To come back to my question, though: what is poetry? The way I see it, I see it as this famous quote (which I know by heart) from William Wordsworth, a 19th-century Romantic poet who holds a dear place in my heart:

“For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”

So there you have it, folks. That is poetry.

– The Finicky Cynic


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