Erin's Poetry Tips

40 tips to poetry and poetry forums

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Poetry vs. Prose

and the controversy continues

I have collected several definitions from different sources for both of these terms, because this topic tends to be a bit controversial. The line between the two seem to get blurred in semantics over poetic words and poetry.

Poetry: Poetry is literary composition in verse, metrical language or other patterned language. It is often contrasted to prose.
Prose: Ordinary written language, without a noticeable metrical structure. Often thought of as the opposite of poetry.

1. The art or work of a poet.
2a. Poems regarded as forming a division of literature.
2b. The poetic works of a given author, group, nation, or kind.
3. A piece of literature written in meter; verse.
4. Prose that resembles a poem in some respect, as in form or sound. 5. The essence or characteristic quality of a poem.
6. A quality that suggests poetry, as in grace, beauty, or harmony:

1. Ordinary speech or writing, without metrical structure.
2. Commonplace expression or quality.
3. Roman Catholic Church A hymn of irregular meter sung before the Gospel.

Now that didn’t really help much at all, did it?

Contrary to popular belief, poetry is not defined by the structure or arrangement of a piece.
It is not defined as “separating words and phrases into broken lines and stanzas.”

If I were to write this entry to look like a poem, it still wouldn’t be poetry any more than today’s front page of your local newspaper. Poetry is simply not defined by its appearance. If it can be written in paragraph form and say the same thing, and sound like ordinary speech, it isn’t poetry – it’s prose. Poetry is rhythmic, it is full of imagery and symbolism and makes use of various poetic tools. The sentence structure often varies from common speech, and tends to require great contemplation on varied vocabulary to create a mood within the piece.


Poetry is defined
by the artistry
of its creation,
by the language choices
that are made
to ensure
that it is not
the same
as every day writing.
Don’t misunderstand me,

prose can be poetic,

but it is not poetry.

Prose tends to be longer, wordier, more like everyday language. It uses less in the way of imagery and other poetic devices. Writing prose is not a bad thing, Stephen King has made a generous living from doing just that. He’s a talented writer, and at times includes imagery, metaphor and a sense of rhythm to his writing, however, if I took “It” and broke it into lines, it would not be an epic poem, it would still be a novel.
Prose most definitely has a place in literature, just be educated in the difference and be aware of exactly which it is you normally write, or intend to write.