What is Poetry?
Poetry may be performance based, where the delivery of the words by the poet is just as important as the writing of them. It may be visually based where the look of the words and letters and their arrangement in space is the main part of the art. It may depart from predictable semantics altogether and head toward pure music — sound poetry. It may be some mixture of all of the above.
Just as there is no genetic material test for poetry, there is none for deciding what is ‘great’. Good is easier. Good poetry is like anything good; it's moving, exhilarating, comical, unforgettable, captivating, outrageous, and unrelenting in its effect on the mind. It seems new, even if it's very old, doesn't repeat the apparent, makes us want more, opens us up to another way of understanding the world or confirms (in a way we hadn't exactly thought of) something we've known for a long time. It's simultaneously recognizable and bizarre. It gives courage. It dares to find truths, in a roundabout way or straight on.
Perhaps a greater part of poems begin as an act of self-importance. After all, you have to take your mind out of the torrent of the world's noise, just to think your words into some kind of form. Even if your aim is to include the world's noise, you have to take it in and then let it out of yourself. But that act of self-importance is just a beginning. A good poem moves beyond this beginning to create something like a shared recollection.
Poetry occurs in a boundary that lies between the poet controlling the language and the language controlling the poet. A poem that doesn't hold back for the sake of respectability can be an exhilarating experience, then again it can be an upsetting immersion in purple prose. The poet that has skill has the ability to write from within the feeling, which is everything. Despite the work of the de-constructors, there is still a place for the lyric that says ‘feel what I feel, see what I see.’ Readers and listeners...