Is Poetry Literature?

Is poetry literature? Should one consider written verse, poems or prose, to be classified as literature? For someone not really big into labels, I am going to give the tie to the runner in this case so that I can cross off yet another of my self-imposed reading resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature (see below)
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

So, why poetry? Poems are, in a word, transcendent. Badly written verse can make even the most pleasant person go a little mad. But well-written poems can take the reader on a journey into a corner of their soul they haven’t yet seen before.

Pretty crazy, right? Well, not really. Take my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. What makes her my favorite is partly due to the fact that my mom gave me a book of Dickinson verse when I was a teenager. Once I actually started reading Dickinson, however, I did feel a bit transformed. As Thomas Wentworth Higginson once said,

In many cases these verses will seem to the reader like poetry torn up by the roots…flashes of wholly original and profound insight into nature and life.

Who doesn’t crave a little insight? That’s the thing about Dickinson: it’s like she knew me, what was going on inside of me, things I didn’t even know how to express myself. As a teenager, this was my favorite poem:

My friend must be a bird,
Because it flies!
Mortal my friend must be,
Because it dies!
Barbs has it, like a bee.
Ah, curious friend,
Thou puzzlest me!

What teenager has a favorite poem? Apparently, this girl! My love for poetry waned over the years, but I always come back to Dickinson. In January the library acquired The Gorgeous Nothings. The book contains actual scans of Dickinson’s handwriting on the backs of envelopes. This is truly an exciting look at this poet’s process:

Envelope

AnotherEnvelope

These scans really don’t do the book justice. Check it out and behold the genius that was Emily Dickinson’s reclusive scribblings. Hold in your hand a tome of untold wonders. Celebrate National Poetry Month.

Carol

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About Carol

Carol likes to read for fun. Her reading material tends to be fluffy, funny, and/or frivolous. If she were stranded on an island with only one author's books she would take Dave Barry. Lately she's doing that thing she said she'd never do: reading teen fiction! Authors like Libba Bray, Lauren Morrill, and Gail Carriger keep her coming back for more. She obsessively records what she reads and what she wants to read on GoodReads.