What Constitutes a Poem?

Most countries produce poetry before they produce prose in their literature. That which is poetic tends to have a rhythm, compared to prose, which focuses more on getting information across. Overall, poetry is difficult to define, since the art form transcends boundaries and often abandons rules. However, there are certain elements commonly found poems.


Verse is a type of writing that has a certain number of lines, meters or other characteristics that are standard, but arbitrary. Poetry is similar to verse, in that some poems rhyme, though not all. For verse to become poetry, the verse must have imagination and emotion in the language.


Poetry usually has some form of organization. Information presented in the poem usually proceeds in an order that makes the poem comprehensible. Some poets are experimental with how they arrange their words, but poems must have a logic that make them understandable to at least some people.


Poetry usually has a speaker who describes images or ideas to the reader. The speaker, also called the narrator, can be the poet. Alternatively, the poet can take on a persona, pretending to be someone else. The speaker might be aware of everything, or may have limited knowledge. Some speakers come from specific time periods, which influence the poem’s context. When analyzing a poem, people usually need to consider the context the poem was written under to understand what the poet was trying to get across. However, some theorists, such as the New Critics, believed that poems should only be analyzed by themselves, without any context.


Poems are usually filled with emotion and sensory details. The poem has a tone, which is the general mood of the poem. Some poems feel sad, while other poems have happy tones. Poems can usually convey any emotion or attitude through the use of words. As with prose, poems usually have some tension, often in the form of a conflict. This conflict can be moral, spiritual, philosophical or of some other nature.


Poets try to get meaning across. Words have denotations, which are literal meanings of the word, and connotations, which are attitudes that people have toward the word. For example, the word “intellectual” has a different connotation than the word “egghead.”


Poems sometimes have a meter that governs how many syllables are in each line. Meters can include spondees, iambs, dactyls and trochees. Poems that contain rhyme sometimes have a rhyme scheme, a consistent way in which poems are intended to rhyme. Some poems have a formal structure, such as the 5-7-5 line structure of the haiku.


Poems often use imagery, which is the use of words to create mental images in the reader. Poets can use symbolism and metaphors to create imagery. Metaphors are words that are meant to represent images or abstract ideas. For example, a poet might call someone a puppy because that person demonstrates loyalty. Poets usually strive to create original metaphors, since those that are used too often are considered tiresome and cliche.

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