Genre: Poetry


¨“Sir, what is poetry?”

¨“Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is; but it is not easy to tell what it is.”

¨-from Boswell’s “Life of Samuel Johnson,” April 12, 1776

“Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.” T.S. Eliot”

¨“Poetry is not efficient. If you want to learn how to cook a lobster, it’s probably best not to look to poetry. But if you want to see the word lobster in all its reactant oddity, its pied beauty, as if for the first time, go to poetry. And if you want to know what it’s like to be that lobster in the pot, that’s in poetry too.” –Dean Young, “The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction”

Though poetry does not have a specific length, shape, style, poetry always emphasizes language. Good poetry, effective poetry is not caught in the confusion of generalizations and abstractions; instead, it dances around in the senses. Rather than explain love as a great thing, an effective poem will show love through the dense images of a young girl falling from a playground slide, rushing to show her mother her new scar. So how can you write good poetry? By remembering your five senses. By considering the poet’s primary obligation: to make a specific moment/idea visible through images readers can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.

In Professor DW’s classroom, you’ll be exploring three specific types of poems: The Ode, The Protest Poem, and the Diss Track; however, it’s important you realize the never-ending access you have to all sorts of poems. Read all of it! Until then though, please read the following poems:

Protest Poems:

Boy Breaking Glass by Brooks
Rosa Parks by Giovanni
Ghazal, After Ferguson by Komunyakaa
For the Consideration of Poets by Madhubuti
If We Must Die by McKay
Vivas to those who have failed by Espada
There is a street named after MLK in every city by Willis-Abdurraqib
I Feel most Colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background- an elegy by Parker
Jubilate Homo by Ellen Bass
Killing Methods by Limon
Border Patrol Agent by Corral

Find more protest poems here.
Find more on protest poetry as a genre here 
and here.


Ode on a Grecian Urn by Keats
Ode to Wine by Neruda
Ode to the Crossfader by Murillo

Find out more about odes on our page: https://creative.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2017/08/25/the-ode/

 You might also consider reading what other poets have said about the genre of poetry:

According to poet Jackie Kay, “Poetry in my view is little moments of belief in quite intense language. And poetry always loves language, loves the words, is in love with language in some sort of way, and finds a way to get that across, to get the music of language and the love of words across in quite a short and precise way. Poetry loves using images, metaphors, alliteration so there’s all sorts of techniques and tricks that people can do: repetitions in poetry that you can’t do in prose or if you did do it in prose, it would seem very mannered prose. But poetry, yes, it’s almost a moment of belief for me. It’s a moment … When you write a poem, you have to have certain amount of conviction. You have to believe in that poem and you have to get your reader to believe in it too. You’re almost writing the poem and you’re saying to the reader or the listener, ‘Come into my world and see what I see.’

W.N. Herbert, another poet, describes poetry as a photograph: “It’s a poem about where we always go on holiday, which my daughter assumes is just going to continue for ever and ever, which is the same little town in Crete and the bay. The poems actually named after the bay, so it’s got a Greek name – ‘Ormos Almirou’ – and it was about just one moment when we were playing in the sea. And it’s that sort of thing which I think poems are very apt for, apt machines for, capturing in the same way as cameras are, you know, just this little moment which seems to have a resonance. And it seems to keep on resonating, so that I was actually sort of just jumping up and down in the waves with her, and I glanced sideways as a particularly big wave came over and she jumped up but she didn’t jump up high enough. So there’s this kind of moment where she was just sort of stuck in the wave, completely immersed in it. And it sort of affected me in a way that I couldn’t say anything about, which is another one of those ‘signs’. Contrary to the people who say, ‘Oh, you could write a poem about that’, it is precisely the moments when you don’t know, at all, what you think about something that you could possibly write a poem about.”

Poet Paul Muldoon: “I think one of the things about poetry that I noticed that those who are thinking about it, perhaps for the first time, are determined to do is to make it mean as much as possible. Whereas in fact, in a strange way, to make it mean as little as possible – I don’t mean by that nonsense, but what I mean by that is to cut down on the range of possible readings. And basically if you look after one, that’s enough to be going on with and if there happened to be one-and-a-half or two – fantastic! Many people try to incorporate three or four or five readings into a poem and end up with none, because nobody knows what’s happening. And that’s one of the reasons why poems are unintelligible is that they mean no single thing. And there’s a theory of course that they should mean all things to all men, which is complete baloney. They should mean one thing, roughly speaking, to one man or woman. That’s enough to be going on with.”

One last note: One important aspect of writing poetry is understanding density of language to create intensity for the reader. Burroway writes about this in her textbook, Imaginative Writing, and with her help, we’ll be talking about how to create dense lines in our poems. 

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