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Truth, for the time being, is what can be measured, calculated, or found on some instrument … And the inner life is given its due only when the strain of imbalance sends a crack zigzagging through the outer shell. The result? My faith in the transformative power of literature has never waned. A year ago, however, after a decade as the poetry editor of The Harvard Review and a score of years teaching undergraduates and graduate students, I began to share the sentiments expressed by my prose-writing friend, particularly regarding the preciousness of poetry.

And these works were written by some of the best minds! If they failed, it was not for lack of talent. The poems worked for their intended audiences. They won prizes, adulation. Yet their lack of engagement with the world beyond art limits their appeal. When faced with the challenge of reading, I have sometimes found myself heavy bored, and the poem in question excessively underwhelming, lacking dimension or scale, or altogether devoid of any authentic feeling or thinking that might render the work illuminating or inspiring.

About audience, I am fond of telling students that writing poetry is on par with composing for the gods, who themselves are makers and, we are told, all-knowing, and that the challenge of any poet is to sing beyond the ennui and cynicism that are the byproducts of a restless omniscience.


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Even the gods are entitled to their revelations, a new purchase on their divinity. Our art should do more than celebrate ourselves in Whitmanian fashion, or sublimely frame our individualism, or camouflage our moral shortcomings and desperate self-regard. Even the most personal poems should break through our novelistic sense of ourselves and stabilize the mutual fate of our shared destinies, our ephemerality.

I had long ago put aside the highbrow argument that rap lyricists and songwriters such as the Nobel laureate Bob Dylan are nonliterary, and thus I was open to the message that, though not a populist art, poetry has the potential of captivating more than an audience of one if it aims for the highest imaginative reaches of human speech, advances an untainted vision of humanity that preserves our dignity as a species, and works to maintain the sovereignty of language against abusive and corruptive rhetoric that breeds hatred like much of what we experience today in our political sphere.

Filled with this conviction, I calibrated my thinking.

7 Common Types of Poetry

Even with multiple social media platforms, even with satellites that televise from every corner of the world, we are, without art and literature, incapable of taking in the full width and complexity of our humanity and are likely to overlook the miracles that are found there. Now that our skies are once again our battlefields, we reflexively turn to our screens to see our proliferated differences, ideological or otherwise, amplified into profits, a kind of circus composed of codes.

What we seek in poetry is ourselves beyond the inarticulateness, silence, and immeasurable mystery that define human existence. Poems work to free us of this tyranny. Still, how rewarding the happenstance when we encounter a poem that embodies that complexity and difficulty, the shape and contours of our deep humanity and aloneness, the words that give expression to what we feel or did not know we felt. Like wow! Are these the best poems? I count them among a growing personal anthology. For me, the best poems are those in which the author avoids concealment and obfuscation, and the truth of that person, eccentric, vulnerable, and brilliant, bears itself out in a sound heretofore unheard.


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The best poems evince such authenticity in language, form, thought, and emotion that lead us to breathlessness and a lot of sweating, somehow changing the very air around us. Examples include the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Vedas sacred texts of Hinduism. This style of writing may have developed to help people memorize long chains of information in the days before writing.

Rhythm and rhyme can make the text more memorable, and thus easier to preserve for cultures that do not have a written language.

Poetry Society of America

Poetry can be written with all the same purposes as any other kind of literature — beauty, humor, storytelling, political messages, etc. It has no rhyme, and no particular meter. But its words still have a distinct, rhythmic quality, and the line breaks encapsulate the meaning of the poem. This poem by the Japanese poet Basho is a haiku. This highly influential Japanese style has no rhymes, but it does have a very specific meter — five syllables in the first line, seven in the second line, and five in the third line.

Watch this video on YouTube Rapping originated as a kind of performance poetry. In the s and 70s, spoken word artists like Gil Scott-Heron began performing their poems over live or synthesized drumbeats, a practice that sparked all of modern hip hop. Even earlier, the beat poets of the s sometimes employed drums in their readings.

Watch this video on YouTube Some of the most famous historical poems have been turned into movies or inspired episodes of television shows. Beowulf , for example, is an Anglo-Saxon epic poem that has spawned at least 8 film adaptations, most recently a animated film starring Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins. Nearly all poems are written in verse — that is, they have line breaks and meter rhythm. But verse is also used in other areas of literature.

Their dialogue is separated into rhythmic lines just like a song, but they are supposed to be speaking normally. Beowulf — Trailer.


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    Attempts to define poetry

    APA Citation. Comic Relief. Deus ex machina. Double Entendre. Dramatic irony. Extended Metaphor. Fairy Tale.