When I began to write, the first question to which I needed to find an answer was “What is a poem?” This is a question to which there is no easy answer and early feedback to my earnest efforts sometimes included a comment such as “But
is this really a poem?”
There are still a number of people whose first response to such a question will be that the lines must rhyme. A curious answer because there is a long tradition of non-rhyming poetry. Rhyme is still used by
some, often in a less obvious way than was once common, but there is no reason to see it as the important defining feature of poetry.
As I began to write my own poems, I looked at statements made by good poets about what poetry meant
to them and I found a wealth of enlightening material.
Miroslav Holub: Poetry is energy; it is an energy-storing and energy-releasing device.
Dana Gioia: Poetry is the art of
using words charged with their utmost meaning.
Brendan Kennelly: Good poems are flashes of light in the darkness of the heart and mind.
A poem must feel as though
it needs to be written, Esther Morgan
once advised me when commenting on lines I had written which were prompted by a workshop exercise. It was, I had felt at the time of writing, an interesting exercise, but it sparked off very few
original ideas and writing had not come easily. A poem which comes naturally, where ideas bounce back, surprise you by the connections they make with ideas and experiences that are central to your thinking, lead to an interesting conclusion which is
still not, the reader senses, the final answer.