Best Question of the Night: Is this a poem?

One half of the way until our next workshop session at the Bixby Library, and we met to celebrate the holiday and catch up. A few of us brought gifts. We shared a beer, some pizza, and holiday cheer. Three of us read some recent work.


The best question of the night–my only criterion is the flurry of discussion it elicited from the group–was “Is this really a poem?” New poets lacking confidence in their intuition often get caught up in this doubt. When I explain poetry, I always refer to June Jordan’s guidelines for critiquing a poem. She provides a succinct, practical, empowering defintion. The three tenets to her definition: a place for truth, maximum impact with a minimum of words, a precision of language.


These tenets push the reader to the conclusion that poetry is made, it is crafted. Jordan, of course, was positioning herself in a movement that rejected certain assumed rules for poetry parallel to the rejection of other white, Euro-centric traditions, and this makes it no less meaningful. That position, though, does preclude certain obvious follow-up quesions, like: ‘so, you mean you don’t need lines or anything?’ At its core, poetry demands no line breaks, no.

Poetry’s heart for Jordan and for me is that it expresses a subjective truth of the poet’s experience, that the poem does so with a minimum of language to create maximum impact, and that there is a precision of language. The second two ideas move together. Choice and arrangement of words are conscious crafting of language. This conscious crafting is part of the creative process of poetry.


If you want it to be a poem, make it a poem. Think about language, revel in the tactile pleasure of reading the words, precisly choose to say what you mean.