On Defining Poetry

A Week in Writing: Day Three

This writing assignment was a final paper intended to summarize concepts I discussed in various poetics over the course of the semester. The essay is long, so I chose certain paragraphs, and added breaks where text is removed. I have also split long paragraphs to make them more readable.

Considering the world of poetry and all it envelopes within its folds, it can be difficult to form a concrete definition that summarizes the art in a simple, yet comprehensive manner. […] To begin defining poetry, one must first acknowledge the virtual illimitability of its being.

Poetry, as I have come to understand it, is such a multifaceted concept that the best way to grasp its meaning is to understand the range of its purpose and the fullness of its potential.

Anything can be poetic, yet not everything constitutes poetry in itself. There is actually a very fine line between poetry and prose, or any form of writing that cannot be classified as poetic verse. Since the divide between the two concepts is easily blurred, it can be hard to garner a sufficient understanding of the difference between poetry and prose, and thus it is difficult, maybe even impractical, to establish a clear and exact definition of poetry’s being.


It is important to avoid definitive statements with strict limiting functions about what does and does not constitute poetry. Imposing invariable meaning is akin to setting a mathematical range: though the limit may be applicable in a certain sense, it cannot be applied to the entire function; in this way, though one definition of poetry may apply to specific works and pieces, it will not be sufficient enough to encompass the whole range of poetic works, and thus is incapable of defining poetry in its entirety.

The problem with finding an all-encompassing definition is not rooted in poetry itself; the problem stems from our attempts to find an explicit answer to a seemingly boundless question: “What is poetry?”.

As humans, we are inclined to make sense of the things we wish to better understand. However, sometimes people seek definition where definition need not be. Though this is only human nature, the whole point of poetry is to challenge one’s thoughts. Therefore, rather than imposing possible bounds in an attempt to understand gaps and unfilled intervals, readers should challenge themselves to embrace the incompletion that lies in lacunas — to perceive poetry as it is without subjecting works to meanings derived from obscuring preconceptions. If people fought such inclinations, instead reading poems without allowing preconceived judgments to interfere, perhaps they would be able to find the understanding they so desperately seek.


There is so much more to this paper, but for this purpose, a sample is best. Although there are running sentences, and there is some room for improvement in the way of word choice and tense, I love this essay. To think my work has further developed since Freshman Year…Agh, now I’m getting excited about growth. Anyway, grammatical errors aside, this is a piece I proudly present.

Explaining This Challenge


To read more of my work, feel free to explore the links below.

An Unsettling Superposition ← P R E V I O U S
N E X T → On Fake News