Defining Poetry

In this blog post, I am going to be talking about a rather interesting excerpt from The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms’s definition of poetry. The Bedford says, “Second, poetry is often contrasted with fiction. This distinction, however, has proved more problematic because some poets and literary historians have characterized poetry as fiction (or even as the ‘supreme fiction,’ as in Wallace Stevens’s ‘A High-Toned Christian Woman’ [1922]), as that which is not essentially tied to fact, to history. Seen from this angle, any imaginative artistic work might be called poetic.” I found it very interesting that something could be contrasted with something that many say are the same. Basically it is considered the same thing by some high ups, but not everyone agrees with them. You would think something that has been around for so long would have a genre that was agreed upon. Genre in the broad sense of fiction and non-fiction. 

But if you think about the disagreement over where to put poetry, it kind of makes sense. I mean if you look at poetry, some of it is fictional. For example, Edgar Allen Poe’s work, Elizabeth, is a known work of fiction. But on the other hand, people write poems about their lives. One example of this is Arthenia’s Birthday by Randy Johnson, which is about the loss of Arthenia. Both of these are poems that fall on both sides of the spectrum. But if there are known poems on each side, why do people try to put poetry in either category?

For my INTD 105 class, we read an essay by Mark Twain called Corn-pone Opinions, in which Twain talked about people’s need to conform to society. Twain wrote, 

“The black philosopher’s idea was that a man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter. If he would prosper, he must train with the majority; in matters of large moment, like politics and religion, he must think and feel with the bulk of his neighbors, or suffer damage in his social standing and in his business prosperities.”

 Now since, according to Twain, we as people are constantly trying to conform to society, maybe we too try to shove things into categories. I wrote a blog post at the beginning of the semester about our need to categorize things into genres based on our need to characterize Vlepo in which I discussed more how we are always trying to push people into boxes. I think maybe the same thing applies to poetry.  Maybe we are all trying to shove poetry into a box, where really it should be the box things get shoved in too. Shoving poetry into either fiction or non-fiction would be like putting your moving box in your stuff instead of putting your stuff in the box. Poetry should be a box that contains the two boxes of fiction and non-fiction inside of it, not the other way around. 

Now you may be thinking why should I care about what category poetry falls into, but I think it reflects the society around it. It especially represents my life; put together on the outside, but in a huge state of confusion on the inside. Imagine how much stress you would have if you wrote a series of poems but now you are told to categorize all your poems under one title. It is restrictive to our creativity and boxes us into either only fiction or nonfiction expressions of themselves. And although we like to put things into boxes, no one wants to feel like they are trapped in one.

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