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What is poetry? What makes a poem a poem? What distinguishes good poetry?

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  1. 1. What is Poetry? By Dominique Gerald Cimafranca This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Philippines License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.
  2. 2. Starting exercise Write a short poem, taking any topic and using any form. Then, let's compare it against the criteria for poetry.
  3. 3. Class discussion Let's read out the poems. Which poems do we like most? What makes these poems especially appealing?
  4. 4. Four aspects of poetry ● Function: “what is it supposed to do?” ● Content: “what is the significant communication it shares?” ● Form: “why does it choose a particular way to say it?” ● Other poetic constituents: “how do these other elements contribute to the poem?”
  5. 5. Functions of poetry ● To entertain ● To render deep truths about the human being and the attributes of his reality “ delight and to instruct...” --Horace
  6. 6. “Love Song” Your little hands, Your little feet, Your little mouth – Oh, God, how sweet! Your little nose, Your little ears, Your eyes, that shed Such little tears. Your little voice, So soft and kind; Your little soul, Your little mind! --Samuel Hoffenstein
  7. 7. Content of poetry ● Everything is suitable poetic material. ● The crucial substance of poetry is its human relevance and the philosophic truth it reveals. ● The content of all poetry that is considered authentic is revealed from a point of view that is universal and enduring. ● The content of poetry recognizes the paradoxical nature of man and the tensive forces under which he moves.
  8. 8. “The Dying Airman” A handsome young airman lay dying, As on the aerodrome he lay, To the mechanics who round him came sighing, These last words he did say: “Take the cylinders out of my kidneys, The connecting-rod out of my brain, Take the cam-shaft from out of my backbone, And assemble the engine again.” --Anonymous
  9. 9. “The Coming of Wisdom with Time” Though leaves are many, the root is one; Through all the lying days of my youth I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun; Now I may wither into the truth. --William Butler Yeats
  10. 10. Appreciating poetry at the basic level ● The story being told by the poem. ● The rhythm, rhyme, and other devices of sound that create a pleasant effect. ● The evocative images and details that stir the senses and stimulate the imagination.
  11. 11. Appreciating poetry at the higher level ● A poetic idea is best expressed not by statement that explains, but through a special use of image and situation that embody the idea. ● Poetry is artistically projected by suggesting and condensing its insights and crucial ideas. ● The conclusions projected by a poem are reached by a special use of its situations, details, and characters. ● Some direct statements and factual details in a poem have a metaphysical function and are not to be considered merely as literal facts and assertions.
  12. 12. Key Point Images and Metaphors!
  13. 13. Metaphor enhances ● goes beyond the bare presentation of literal statement ● allows and facilitates the reader's right to make his own creative response
  14. 14. “A Song of the Southern River” Since I married the merchant of Ch'u-'ang He has failed each day to keep his word... Had I thought how regular the tide is, I might have chosen a river-boy. --Li Yi
  15. 15. “Zapote: Market-Going” Here too is our faith of Sundays: In the bleary morning, In the early prattle of streets – Rainwashed in the canals, Or steaming in plumes of exhaust, In the vapor of flies, among garbage heaps. Stooped man and son Trundling a pushcart of fruits, Family unloading bundles of leaves from a jeep, Housewife and daughter Alighting from a pedicab – the one clutching Her purse, the other a bag made of plastic – And matron issuing from the door Of sedan, announced by chauffer and maid... All partake in the communion of stalls, In the anointment of thin blood and dishwater From the silver offerings of fish, Hung flesh, gnarled root, cut leaf – Under a pentecost of lamps, In the raucous cathedral of our daily eucharist. --Marne Kilates
  16. 16. Ambiguity ● Ambiguity contributes complexity and richness of meaning to a poem ● Anything ambiguous can be interpreted in two or more ways
  17. 17. Allusion ● The special use of images and situation rather than statement. ● Suggesting and condensing the use of ambiguous terms and positioning of certain components of the poem
  18. 18. How can we tell if it is really poetry? ● subtlety ● indirection ● fresh insights ● literary instruments
  19. 19. Characteristics of poetry ● indirect, structure in metaphor ● articulated in metaphor ● manifested as image ● "casting the material in metaphor or image...dramatic, suggestive image" ● "without the structuring of metaphor, there is no poetry"
  20. 20. Other components of poetry ● Theme – the core of ● The central symbol, poetry and the symbolic ● Narrative base / thread storyline ● Allusion ● Sound as internal ● Varieties of diction device: rhythm, rhyme, euphony ● Approach to the poetic meaning: tone or attitude
  21. 21. Technical Aspects of Poetry
  22. 22. External limits ● length and formation of lines ● meter ● rhyme ● rhythm ● euphonic diction patterns ● juxtaposition ● typographical idiosyncracies
  23. 23. Internal limits ● tone ● contrast ● nuances ● ellipses ● understatement ● fresh stratagems and insights ● ambiguity ● inventive reproductive ● suggestiveness use of words ● indirection ● internal rhyme and ● thematic tension alliteration ● symbolic details
  24. 24. Music-related attributes ● rhythm ● onomatopoeia ● metrical beat ● repetition ● rhyme ● assonance ● euphony ● dissonance ● alliteration ● other sound effects
  25. 25. Lines ● minimalist lines ● long lines ● stanzas ● interludes
  26. 26. Questions?
  27. 27. References ● “Introduction to Poetry”, Dr. Edith Tiempo ● "Six Poetry Formats and the Transforming Image: A Monograph on Free Verse", Dr. Edith Tiempo
  28. 28. What is Poetry? By Dominique Gerald Cimafranca This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Philippines License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.