Have you ever got tired of reading the same sort of thing over and over and wanted to try something new? If you answered yes, this is perfect for you! I’ve decided to start a Genre Exploration series in which I’ll venture myself into new genres and discuss what defines them, which are their classics, discuss the new releases, recommend books and authors, and much more.
In this first installment I’ve decided to talk about poetry. I know it’s a scary genre for many, including myself, so I want to discover more about it and hopefully inspire some of you to reach out for it too.
Poetry has so much to offer, but it inspires fear because it takes many different forms. It can rhyme or not, be short or long, be serious or playful… It’s such a broad genre that sometimes people don’t understand it and push it away. So today let’s see what poetry is and what are some of the common misconceptions about it.
Let’s start small. How can we define poetry in the most general sense? Well, let’s say that poetry refers to compositions that aim to evoke emotions and meanings through the clever use of language.
From that definition, it’s clear how broad poetry can be. It can consist of many different elements, like rhymes, rhythm, alliteration, and repetition, or it can simply be a composition without any set pattern. Considering that, we can say there are two main types of poetry:
- Formal or traditional verses poetry, which follows a set of rules regarding metrics and rhymes foreseen by the author. It can by lyrical, which focuses on feelings and the inner world of a person; descriptive, which depicts the exterior world; narrative, which tells a story; or dramatic, which is part of a play and is told through a character. Here we have an example of a lyrical poem by Emily Dickinson. You can read it out loud to notice the rhythm and the rhymes better.
- Free verses poetry, which doesn’t follow any exact rules. As an example, here’s an untitled piece about vulnerability from Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey. The language doesn’t follow a specific pattern and the focus rests entirely on the meaning.
Nowadays, most contemporary poetry is free verse, although there is an American movement called New Formalism that seeks to bring attention again to traditional forms of poetry. Of course, there are many types of poems that derive from these two categories, like sonnets, haiku, limericks, and odes, among many others, so what makes something poetry if they can be written in so many different ways? I would say the economy of language. Poetry chooses its words carefully to evoke a range of emotions, depict a scenario or describe a certain place, so it takes especial care of its form. Because of this, it’s usually short compared to the works of prose and relies in the playful use of language, like using figurative speech (metaphors, similes, etc.).
Here I’ve listed some misconceptions that I’ve encountered in my short journey through this genre. I’ve now learned how wrong these are and how they might be some of the causes that make people run away from poetry, so let’s break them down:
- Poetry has to be analyzed to be understood. This misconception comes from the fact the poetry plays with language and its meanings are somewhat hidden. As I said before in my definition, poetry is evocative so its purpose is to make you think or feel something. This something might vary according to your life experiences, so a poem might mean something for me that’s completely different to what it meant for you. Either way, we can all appreciate it without having to break down the poem, count the lines, analyze the meter, and all that jazz.
- Poetry is hard to understand. This comes hand in hand with the last misconception. There are poems that use very complex language and then there are others who are very simple and straightforward. Either way, poetry requires arguably more attention to the words than prose does, but that doesn’t mean it is hard to understand. This is overthinking poetry. Sometimes you pick novels and read them critically, analyzing every character, highlighting every sentence that you think has a hidden meaning, thinking about all underlying themes… Then there are times you pick a book and you just let is speak to you. You still understand it, right? You just don’t get hung up on what every little thing means. The same thing happens with poetry!
- Poetry is only about love. Is poetry romantic? Yes, of course it can be. Is that all it can be? No, not at all! My favorite poems are quite dark ones, like Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, or La Desesperación by José de Espronceda (the opening verses are extremely creepy). Poetry takes on so many different topics that you’re sure to find ones that speak to you if you’re not fond of romantic poems.