WHAT MAKES A POET A POET?
Last week, a friend of mine was working at a literary workshop and related to me how someone from the audience asked one of
the sponsors: What makes you a poet? And, according to my friend, “the poet danced around the question like an
ant trying to avoid getting sprayed by Raid.” It turns out the audience wanted to know what made the poet's
work poetry when similar sounding works were not considered poetry. Fair questions, I thought. My kind of
I commented, “I can’t believe a poet, any poet, would not be able to answer that question. I had an answer as
soon as I heard the query. But, to be fair, “That,” I added, “is the problem with poetry today—the inability on the
part of many individuals to see the difference between writing which we call prose, and writing which goes
beyond the limits of standard prose to become poetry.” This is because no matter how good the writing, the
work can still sound like prose instead of poetry.
This, of course, in my mind, brings up other questions, like: Where does prose end and poetry begin? Who
determines which one is prose and which one is poetry? Do those individuals who decide which is which really
know which is which? Does the public know which is which? How does the public know which is which? Who tells
the public which is which? What does the public think poetry is? Does poetry today involve the public at all?
Taking prose, formatting it into lines of no more than six to eight words per line, and breaking the work into
stanzas of varying lines, does not necessarily make the author a poet, not even if you were to add rhythm and
meter. This is, and has always been, the basis for my arguments in favor of rhyme. Prose and poetry both use
the same elements found in all literature, elements like simile, metaphor, and imagery, etc. So, where is the line
between prose and poetry to be drawn?
Ask me the same question and I will quickly reply: “What makes me a poet is my unique ability to take the very
same elements used in prose to create poetry. How? By the addition of the one and only element that prose
does not contain—rhyme.” The good thing about my reply is—it is irrefutable. Even if it's bad poetry, making me
a bad poet, it is still poetry, and I'm still a poet. Anyone reading rhyming verse will never, ever have trouble
identifying it as poetry. Of course, in order to become a good, or maybe even a great poet, a rhyming poet
must create rhymes that no one can ever call “nursery rhyme” poetry or “greeting card verse.” In other words, a
rhyming poet must bring his work up to par with the rhyming greats of the past.