Introduction to the Poetry Genre

Poetry – Narrative – Dramatic – Lyrical

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Hello Lovelies, and welcome back to the blog. Today, and for the next few weeks, we’re talking about the second Pillar of Genre. Let’s talk about Poetry.

How do you define what Poetry even is? Would you say that it has a meter or cadence? That it has to rhyme and have multiple verses? That it has to take a specific form? All of those things may be aspects of poetry, and yet poems exist that could also be said to have none of those qualities. 

Poetry Definition

As ever, one of my favorite definitions of the word Poetry comes from the Oxford dictionary which defines it as a “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature.” We actually have Aristotle to thank for the subgenres which are still used to this day.

With this definition, I’d like to also direct you to my 5 Pillars of Genre post from earlier in the year where I give other definitions and where I offer this gem of wisdom: Often, putting any definition on poetry is actually limiting its potential. The form itself sometimes matters and sometimes doesn’t. Sometimes the structure is rigid, sometimes it breaks off in the last few lines and does something else, and sometimes poetry is completely fluid.

One of my most favorite analogies comes from the Writing Excuses podcast where writing is likened to speaking whereas poetry is likened to singing. If someone starts singing to you instead of casually conversing, you pay attention. Somehow the act of singing the words rather than speaking them focuses the attention on them more specifically, and in poetry, if nowhere else, the specific words matter.

Narrative Poetry

Narrative poetry is going to be the type of poetry that most people are familiar with. In fact, when I took poetry in high school, it was the only type of poetry they taught. This type of poetry is the poetry that holds the most shape and form and is a story told in the form of a verse. If, when we opened, you thought about Shakespearean sonnets, haiku, or anything with a hard structure, you thought first and foremost of narrative poetry.

Like Beowulf and other less daunting narrative poems, narrative poetry has a specific form it follows, and, as its name suggests, it tries to tell a completely self-contained story. Whether using a beginning, middle, end ideation like three-act structure, or something like a four act ideation following introduction, development, twist, conclusion, narrative poetry is going to be paired with a style of poetic verse for full effect. 

Dramatic Poetry

Dramatic poetry is going to sound, at first, a little like narrative poetry. Dramatic poetry is narrative, in that it absolutely does tell a story in lines of verse, but that story is specifically meant to be spoken aloud orally. Dramatic poetry is actually older than narrative poetry, as the oral tradition is older than the written one. Still, dramatic poetry can be found in many places, even still today.

Let me just ask–have you ever been to a slam poetry competition? Because even though I don’t often write poetry myself, I am an absolute fiend for going to slam poetry competitions. I remember the first time a friend brought me to this art gallery after hours that had a stage set up in the main room, most of the lights dimmed, and a slam poetry competition that went on with contestants for several hours before a winner was finally announced. There’s something incredible about an evocative and often emotional piece of poetry being read, not in the stillness and comfort of your home, but in front of a crowd of strangers that are giving you a rapt, and very specific attention.

Lyric Poetry

Lyric poetry is, perhaps, the most distinctive of all the poetic styles. While you may have heard the word lyric and thought that this must refer to music, you would have only been half correct. Lyric poetry is a style that has lyrical, almost sing-song qualities, and was born out of the Greek tradition and set to a stringed instrument called a lyre.  

Lyrical poetry is arguably the most common type of poetry there is as it has evolved and has been modernized the most from its original form. Many things fall under the lyric poetry because lyric poetry encompasses a wide range of forms and approaches, and lyric poetry is virtually without a prescribed form or style. If it deals with large emotions, or is personal in nature, it is most often going to be a form of lyric poetry. 

Next Week

If you are still unsure of these poetic subgenres, don’t fret. Starting next week, we will be going into more detail about each of these, starting with the Narrative Poetry subgenre, so I hope you’ll check back next week to learn even more. 

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your favorite poetry subgenre?
  2. Do you have a favorite poet or poem?
  3. What genre is your favorite to read in, and do you write in the same genre or a different one?
  4. What is the most important reason writers should be aware of genre and its conventions?
  5. What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?

Leave your answers in the comments section for this post!

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