Spellwork Through Poetry, Lesson 4

Lesson 4: What is poetry

Objective: to define poetry as an art form and a tool; to become familiar with the kinds of poetry we will be working with for the remainder of the class.

What is poetry? “poetry is literature in metrical form” is what you will find in the dictionary. That barely scratches the surface of what poetry is. poetry really is something that is almost impossible to define, it is so varied from form to form, author to author, that it if definition-less. While we can’t make a nice definition wrapped in a little bow, we can discuss what poetry is. poetry is, in many critics’ opinions, the ultimate linguistic art form. It is to writing what splatter paintings are to art; specs laid in the most precise ways to show the world another view. poetry is saying the unsayable, bringing the intangible to life. poetry is discovery of the human spirit, to be heard and understood. While prose is made to be logical, poetry is not. poetry is not illogical, but rather the escape of logic. poetry is evocative. poetry is the ultimate use of language.

In the end, we can say one thing for sure about poetry: it is “doesn’t like your definitions and will shirk them at every turn. If you really want to know what poetry is, read it. Read it carefully. Pay attention. Read it out loud. Now read it again. There’s your definition of poetry. Because defining poetry is like grasping at the wind – once you catch it, it’s no longer wind” (Flanagan).


The four poetry forms we will be focusing on are: sonnet, limerick, villanelle, and haiku. Use the internet or your local library. Find at least one example of each to become familiar with the forms. Submit to me the title and author of each poem you read. What did you like about each form? What do you think will be a challenge to you?