Is the Definition of Good Poetry Subjective?

Many of us have aspirations of being a writer. In particular, many of us make claim of being a poet. Belonging to the different poetry groups and forums on the Internet I have learned that there are different definitions of “good” poetry.

Being a novice writer I strive to perfect my craft by reading and learning from professionals. With this thought in mind I have done a small bit of research and found that the question of what is good poetry which by the way, is now being termed approachable poetry, is a hot topic among the ranks of writers and is being debated all the way down the literary echelon, from the learned and professional poets to those of us who write for self-gratification.

First let’s look at one of the many definitions of Poetry: Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language choices to evoke an emotional response. Poetry has been known to employ meter and rhyme, but this is by no means necessary. Poetry is an ancient form that has gone through numerous and drastic reinvention over time. The very nature of poetry as an authentic and individual mode of expression makes it nearly impossible to define.

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In the Poetic realm you have many types of poets. From the Purists who count every syllable, tap out every cadence, and look for every forced rhyme. To those writers who jig-saw words on a page and expect the readers to puzzle them out.

At the web site About – Robert Skelton discusses, in his book” The Practice of Poetry” , what a writer does before writing poetry. Skelton writes about how the would-be writer should understand the basics; form, meter, rhythm, how to strategize the poem ( ).

These ideas are well and good yet where does free verse fall into theory? Free verse is just that free, free of form, free of restrictions. Modern day writers are prone to write free verse. Many believe writing in this manner is expressively free, pardon the pun.

Free Verse is an irregular form of poetry free of format. Another definition of free verse is – prose written rich in imagery broken up with line breaks instead of punctuation and paragraphing (

My favorite poet, Billy Collins – former US Poet Laureate, was scheduled to speak at a literary conference in Salt Lake City one weekend in September 2005. Mr. Collins seems to have caused quite an uproar (maybe that’s why I just love the man) among his literary peers. He has now been dubbed “the poster child of approachable poetry” in literary circles (Salt Lake City Tribune Sun. Sept. 11, 2005). Mr. Collins brought on the ire of some critics when he stated, “More people should be reading poetry instead of writing poetry”. Much to the chagrin of those who believe that good poetry does not necessarily have to appeal to the masses and should not have to be explained.

This argument, in literary circles, is about whether poets should write for audiences or write to please themselves (Salt Lake City Tribune Sept. 11, 2005). The article went further to explain that many of the American people are no longer reading as much as they use to. Said article provided statistics gathered by the Association of American Publishers to supplement this statement. My question is: how will a Writer, Poet, Novelist etc� be a writer if they do not read the classics in the way of novels, poetry, plays by established writers? My contention is and always been, to read poetry, write poetry, read poetry�

At one of my poetry groups a contest was opened, one of many contests I might add. The point of the contest was not so much to write a poem but to read the poem by an established writer then poetically write your feelings regarding the work. The poem was “The Waste Land” by TS Eliot. You could not skim over this poem. It was a work to be studied and dissected. It was a difficult poem at best. This was my entry to the contest:

by djwhite2005

It seems poets everywhere

(lounging in Bavarian coffee shops
and Teutonic kaffegesch�¤ft,
to those swishing down
Austria’s sugar slopes)

are obsessed with excruciation.


Macabre I say, macabre.

Je ne sais rien
about bards who write
of blue-haired tortoises
slumped over rooks and queens,

pawns of humanity;

inevitable, unavoidable,
a plague infesting itself.

I am not stunned –
no, not now
Eliot’s Waste Land

is the down-trodden’s
blood dripping
from his eyes;

their hunger, poverty,
and desperation;

the ink within his pen.

My poem did not win. Not because it was a bad piece of writing, it did not win because the piece was not what the judges wanted. The craft of writing, especially verse, can be obtuse at times depending on the reader’s eye. There is nothing written in stone that says what is a good or bad poem unless the writing falls short of grammatical correctness (which this writer tends to louse up quite a bit). As Mr. Collins pointed out more Americans should be reading more poetry and writing less.

This same argument mentioned in the above paragraph has been approached through out the literary world in one way or another. I find it interesting that those of the academic and professional writing worlds are asking the same questions many novice, or by my definition want-to-be writers, are asking, what is good or approachable poetry? How is it defined? I believe poetry is more than good grammar or perfect meter or smooth reading rhyme.

If the professionals are debating the issue then, who is out there that can determine what is good and approachable writing? Could this be subjectivity rearing its obscure head? Why� by George, I do believe it is!

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