Blog: What is a poem? What do you think?

“How do you write a poem?”

It’s a broad question which I hadn’t given much consideration until I was recently asked.

To give you my answer, I’m going to break this down into two parts:

  1. What is a poem? 
  2. How do I write a poem?

Welcome to part one,


What is a poem? 

The short answer is that I’m not entirely sure.

poem def
I asked the internet for advice

For me, a poem is an encompassing idea. I think it’s something that is subjective. I’m not sure who decides whether a poem is a poem. Is it the reader? Is it the writer?

Does it matter?

However, at some point I clearly decided that what I was writing was poetry. I even put it in the name of the blog.

So here’s what I think:


A poem is more than a piece of writing.

Being written seems an intrinsic characteristic to some of the dictionary definitions above. I would argue that this is a limiting perspective.

Some poems are rich and deep. Their intricacies and complexities require the permanence of the written word. They are built to be read and re-read.

However, some poems are composed to be read aloud. They are lyrical and they need to be spoken to be appreciated; they need to be performed.
So many poetic devices– rhythm, rhyme and wordplay– work best when read aloud.

Some poems exist only as spoken word and these are often the most accessible forms of poetry. I believe that nursery rhymes, prayers and song lyrics all have a place in poetry.
These are the poems which are ubiquitous. They’re the poems for people who don’t read poetry and they’re the ones that we recite together.


A poem has a meaningful structure. 

Structure is a integral to clearly conveying information in all forms of communication. We are familiar with the concept of a beginning, a middle and an end; an introduction, a discussion and a conclusion; conflict and resolution.

Structure may vary depending on media, purpose or concept. However, it is a common success factor in most endeavours, be it a film script, a corporate presentation, or an argument with a loved one.

In poetry, structure is more than a vehicle for getting a point across. The use and exploration of structure may be the purpose for writing a poem.

There can be a joy in the puzzle-like quality of working with different styles of poem.

There are many forms of poetry, some with a defined set of rules. Their structure could be dictated by syllable patterns, line breaks, repetition… Think sonnets, haikus and limericks, for example.
Sometimes it is less defined. There can be list poems and letters. There can be poems which are narratives and monologues. The boundaries can become blurred.
Structure is not just linguistic. Concrete poetry is concerned with typography, the visual structure of the poem on a page.
Even stream-of-consciousness or free form poems follow structure, be that loose or fragmented– that’s the point.

The variety of poetic structure offers options for how to present information and concepts. When implemented well, an awareness of structure gives the poet an opportunity to add another layer of meaning to their work.


A poem uses its words with precision and purpose. 

It is good practice, both in writing and speech, to choose our words carefully for meaning and conciseness. However, in poetry, the use of language is celebrated beyond this and, again, could be the purpose of a poem.

On first consideration, I decided that poetry was about distilling an emotion, memory or concept into something eloquent and easily understood. It can be a kind of therapy. I’ve heard it described as the study of simple things. Some say poets search for beauty and meaning where others might overlook it.

These things might be true but, overall, I find it a bit too serious.

There is an idea of a lonely poet who sits in the dark thinking big thoughts and writing very profound things. Whilst there’s a time and a place for this, it is also important to remember the contribution of silliness and nonsense poetry.

I have written poems where the primary purpose has been to make cheap rhymes, bad puns, and fart jokes. I love it and I’m not sorry.

There are so many poetic devices– simile, metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme, just to name a few. These can be very technical but they can also be a lot of fun. For me, they are an opportunity to celebrate language, to play.

I don’t think that poems need to be beautiful in a traditional sense. By which I mean that they don’t have to be nice, or florid, or finished.
I do think that poetry is beautiful but I think that because I love it.
For me that beauty can be in being raw, vulnerable, honest, unapologetic, joyful… It could be in being ugly. Just vulgar and ugly and a bit gross.
I find beauty in authenticity. I also find it in the fantastical.

It’s contradictory, isn’t it?

Sometimes poetry really speaks to something in us, and sometimes it is totally surface-level. Sometimes it’s about love, sometimes grief, and sometimes it’s about toilets. Sometimes all three.

Overall, for me, wordplay and the manipulation of language are a defining characteristic of poetry regardless of the subject matter.


In summary, 

The short answer is still that I don’t really know what a poem is.

I’ve done my best to articulate my thoughts above, but they are intentionally vague. I think it’s subjective.

Poetry is broad and poetry is personal. It can be laced in meaning or it can be matter of fact.

In my own writing, I can identify some major themes and topics. Despite this, there are pieces that I revisit and even myself be unsure of what they’re really about.In the writing of something, the intended meaning can change entirely.

I enjoy playing with different styles, structures and subjects. I’m interested to see whether this will continue or whether it will change as my writing becomes more established.


I would be interested to know your thoughts:

How do you define a poem?
Does that carry through into your own work?
Has your perspective changed over time? 

Thanks for reading,


4 thoughts on “Blog: What is a poem? What do you think?

  1. I’d say a poem was where one plays with language to unlock hidden truths about the world.

    In a poem, all of the rules can be broken as long as you have a reason to do so. They are the witches cauldron where new language is created and new meaning discovered.

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