Sculpting butter in the sun or what is poetry?

Poetry is an...

Photo credit: liber(the poet)

Looking for a definition of poetry, Wikipedia explains that virtually anything goes and poetry probably predates literacy because oral traditions used poetic forms to aid memorization and transmission.

Is it possible that it’s this very capturing-smoke-in-a-sieve vagueness about poetry that makes most people afraid of it? After all, how do we know if we’ve done it “right”?

The essence of a good poem, like music, dance or visual arts, is its ability to speak directly into our hearts beyond the confines of the actual words.

As an infant teacher, I loved “teaching” the children to write poetry, using ideas from The Poetry Society website In the spirit of writing for a purpose, I often asked the children to write poems for their mums to include in their Mothers’ Day cards. Although they were only 6 or 7 years old, their poems were very personal and cherished by their mums. One summer, tragedy struck the family of one of my pupils. At the little girl’s funeral, her brother’s Mothers’ Day poem was read out. It was such a simple and perfect expression of love.

Robert Frost, Dartmouth 1896.

Robert Frost

Recently, I was asked to give a talk on “How to Cope With a Death in the Family”, a very daunting task. Three poems, Home Burial by Robert Frost,

Do not stand at my grave and weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye and She is Gone by an anonymous author, along with excerpts from my memoir, A Life Less Lost, gave me the framework.

I have written poetry for myself since I was a child. Because I mainly read novels that form is what I’m most comfortable working in. But a few of my poems have been published and when my son and future daughter-in-law asked me to write a poem for their wedding, I was thrilled and terrified. Currently, I’m working on a poem as a gift for my dad’s 80th birthday.

So don’t be afraid. Let the fact that there isn’t a right way to do it free you to have-a-go. And if you do, you might be interested in this message from Michael Stewart on behalf of the Grist Poetry Anthology:

As an antidote to Olympic fever, we at Grist are running a free poetry comp for the duration of the games. There will be cash prizes for gold, silver and bronze winners. Full info here:


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. DJ Kirkby
    Aug 04, 2012 @ 17:55:13

    Do not stand at my grave and weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye is one of my very favourite pieces of writing.


  2. Trackback: Obsessions and Observances | Two Voices, One Song

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