One of William Stafford's definitions, from his essay "Making a Poem/Starting a Car on Ice," where he says that "A poem is anything said in such a way or put on the page in such a way as to invite from the hearer or reader a certain kind of attention." That seems to locate at least part of the the poem-ness where it belongs - in the mind of the person doing the perceiving. How else to explain why some are able to find poetry where others do not? I like the implication that there is a latency in poetry which only manifests itself when "a certain kind of attention" is turned upon it.
But if you don't like Stafford's definition, here are some others to add fuel to the fire.
I would define poetry as the rhythmical creation of beauty.
- Edgar Allen Poe
Prose: words in their best order; poetry:
the best words in the best
- S. T. Coleridge
... the art of
employing words in such a manner as to produce an
illusion of the imagaination...
...the record of the best
and happiest moments of the best and
...speech framed...to be heard for its own sake and
interest even over
and above its interest of meaning...
- Gerard Manley Hopkins
...the rhythmic, inevitably narrative,
movement from and overclothed
blindness to a naked vi- sion...
- Dylan Thomas
...language that tells us, through
a more or less emotional reaction,
something that can not be said...
- E. A. Robinson
...the art of saying everything
and reducing it to nothing...
- Barbara Hyett
POEM: a composition designed
to convey a vivid and imaginative sense
of experience, charac- terized by the use of condensed language chosen
for its sound and suggestive power as well as its meaning, and by the
use of such literary techniques as structured meter, natural cadenc- es,
rhyme, or metaphor.
- American Heritage Dictionary
A poem is "a
sonorous molded shape of form".
- Osip Mandelstam
... a verbal
artifact which must be as skillfully and solidly constructed
as a table or a motorcyle...
- W. H. Auden
Poetry amounts to
arranging words with the greatest specific gravity in the
most effective and externally inevitable sequence.
- Joseph Brodsky
poem is an instant of lucidity in which the entire organism
- Charles Simic
A poem is energy transferred from
where the poet got it...by way of the
poem itself, all the way over to the reader.
- Charles Olson
I sometimes begin a poetry
unit by asking the students, since everyone
knows what poetry is, how they would define it. Then we compare our results
with some of the above definitions, noting, of course, that some are
themselves more "poetic" than others. Whatever that means.
I love the book and the look of words the weight of
ideas that popped into my mind I love the tracks of new
thinking in my mind. -Maya Angelou
If I read a book and it
makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm
me, I know that it is poetry. -Emily Dickinson
Be yourself. Don't
imitate other poets. You are as important as they
are. -Gwendolyn Brooks
Don't worry about not measuring up to other
writers. No one has the same
genetic makeup, the same life experiences as you. No one else sees the
world quite the way you do, or can express it quite the same way. You're
already the worlds foremost expert on you. -Charles Webb
If you want
to write poetry, you must have poems that deeply move you.
Poems you can't live without. I think of a poem as the blood in a blood
transfusion, given from the heart of the poet to the heart of the reader.
Seek after poems that live inside you, poems that move through your veins.
One good way to
start writing poetry is to read all kinds of poetry: not
just in order to imitate but to fill up your head with it, to absorb it,
to make poetry an essential part of how you view the world. -Valerie
Writing poems can be a way of pinning down
a dream (almost); capturing a
moment, a memory, a happening; and, at the same time, it's a way of
sorting out your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes the words tell you what
you didn't know you knew. -Lillian Morrison
To me, poetry is a marriage of
craft and imagination. The making of a
poem requires attention to form, sound, revision, and precision. But
imagination lifts you from a lawn chair to the clouds. And this is the
mystery of poetry. -Christine E. Hemp
A lot of people think they can
write poetry, and many do, because they can
figure out how to line up the words or make certain sounds rhyme or just
imitate the other poets they've read. But this boy, he's the real poet,
because when he tries to put on paper what he's seen with his heart, he
will believe deep down that there are no good words for it, no words can
do it, and at that moment he will have begun to write poetry. -Cynthia Rylant
I write first
drafts with only the good angel on my shoulder, the voice
that approves of everything I write. This voice does'nt ask ques- tions
like, Is this good? Is this a poem? Are you a poet? I keep this voice
at a distance, letting only the good angel whisper to me: Trust yourself.
You can't worry a poem into existence. -Georgia Heard
Valentine for Ernest Mann
You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, I'll take two
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.
Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, Here's my address,
write me a poem, deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are shad- ows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.
Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He could'nt understand why she was crying.
I thought they had such beautiful eyes.
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.
Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us,
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but
And let me know.
-Naomi Shihab Nye
Went to the corner
Walked in the store
Bought me some candy
Ain't got it no more
Ain't got it no more
Went to the beach
Played on the shore
Built me a sandhouse
Ain't got it no more
Ain't got it no more
Went to the kitchen
Lay down on the floor
Made me a poem
Still got it
Still got it
After English Class
I used to like Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.
I liked the coming darkness,
The jingle of harness bells, breaking--and adding to
The gentle drift of snow. . . .
But today, the teacher told us
what everything stood for.
The woods, the horse, the miles to go, the sleep--
They all have hidden meanings.
so complicated now that,
Next time I drive by,
I don't think I'll bother to stop.
-Jean Little's _Hey World, Here I am_
Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
of night. Come whistling up the road
Stomp on the porch. Bang in the door
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light.
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon.
See that I see. Talk to me
'Till I'm half as wide awake
As you are. -Robert Francis
What's in My Journal
Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
things, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfusca- tion, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you cant find them. Someones terri- bly
inevitable life story, maybe mind. -William Stafford