The Art of Poetry

This somewhat declarative and relatively alienating document is based on Louis Simpson’s 1967 book An Introduction to Poetry.

Rhythm. Poetry is thought expressed in rhythm. Opposed to prose sentences or paragraph blocks, poetic rhythms depend upon the choice and arrangement of words. Just beneath the words are the syllables. Syllables can be compared to musical notes.

Imitation. Poetry imitates a living state of human being. It is thought that is felt. It is arguably the art of intellection. The fundamental tool of this process is the metaphor. The use of metaphor is specifically in the process of relating concrete objects with the abstract; generally, in comparing one “thing” to another. The motive behind this construction is to unify, to “make sense of things.”

Style and Tone. The “personality” of the imitation is style and tone. And, of course, every person (or persona) is unique. When people say they do not like a technically sound poem, they probably do not like the style and tone. “Industrial” style and tone (those modern poems written in the 20th century) could be typified by the Imagist movement of Hulme, Ezra Pound and others:

To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly exact, nor the merely decorative word.
To create new rhythms… In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.
To allow absolute freedom in the choice of subject.
To present an image…
Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry.

Poet T.S. Eliot, author of Essays on Poetry and Poets, could be considered a student of the Imagist school. The origins of this style are probably found in T.E. Hulme’s Notes on Language and Style.

Technique. The most dominant technique in “pre-industrial” poetry is arranging syllables in complex patterns. In English there are two types of syllables (sounds), stressed and unstressed. These stressed and unstressed syllables are studied in a pseudo-science called prosody. The aim of prosody is to quantize verse into units of one stressed sound with one or two unstressed sounds. Each unit is called a “foot.” A verse with five feet is called a pentameter. Based on the stress-unstress combinations in a foot, it is classified as iambic, trochaic, anapestic, dactylic, spondaic, pyrrhic or amphibrachic. After prosody there is rhyme scheme which allows the classification of the stanza (the “paragraph” of a poem). Words like “tercet” and “couplet” surface here.


The accepted forms of meter serve only to patronize Anglophiles. It becomes contemptible when rigorous study of classical prosody is seen as superior to “unclassified” rhythms in free verse. It is the same argument associated with classical music compared to jazz. To be frank and general, classification in poetry is a discipline reserved for students of literature. It should not be the discipline prized by those who call themselves poets far from the classroom. I am not being hateful. This is my considered opinion.

The desire to unify supposedly unrelated concepts in the form of poetry is the foremost reason why poetry is important. Is not this the task of the historian? Is not this the goal of the physicist—the mathematician?

Poetry is a simulation of perception. Everything else is doggerel or vain diary entries. When one falls in love with another’s mind one is really falling in love with the way another perceives the world. One falls in love with another’s poetic view—a timeless place where spirits live.