Is It Poetry or Is It Verse?

The president of the Poetry Foundation weighs in on 2Pac Shakur, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” and “Jabberwocky.”

by John Barr

Question: What do the following poems have in common?

* * *

It seemed to me a simple thing since my socks was showin’ through:
Turn my old boots out to pasture, and buy a pair—brand new.
Well, they built this cowboy K-mart outa town there in the Mall,
Where I parked my Studdybaker after shippin’ drys this fall.

* * *

There R no words 2 express
how much I truly care
So many times I fantasize of
feelings we can share
My heart has never known
the Joy u bring 2 me
As if GOD knew what I wanted
and made u a reality

* * *

My brother built a robot
that does not exactly work,
as soon as it was finished,
it began to go berserk,
its eyes grew incandescent
and its nose appeared to gleam,
it bellowed unbenignly
and its ears emitted steam.
Answer: They are the opening lines of poems by leading writers in their respective fields. And they all, most likely, set on edge the teeth of the readers of Poetry magazine.

It’s not just snobbery. People who care about their poetry often experience genuine feelings of embarrassment, even revulsion, when confronted with cowboy poetry, rap and hip-hop, and children’s poetry not written by “adult” poets. Their readerly sensibilities are offended. (If the writing gives them any pleasure, it is a guilty pleasure.) The fact that Wallace McRae, Tupac Shakur, and Jack Prelutsky wrote these works for large, devoted audiences simply adds insult to the injury. Somewhat defensively, the serious poetry crowd dismisses such work as verse, not poetry, and generally acts so as to avoid it, if at all possible, in the future. The fact that these different kinds of poetry don’t communicate, don’t do business with one another, is not just a matter of lost e-mail addresses. The advocates of each know what they like, and it’s definitely not what the others are doing. The result is a poetry world of broad divides, a balkanized system of poetries with their own sovereign audiences, prizes, and heroes. The only thing they share is the word poetry, and that not willingly.

There’s nothing wrong with this, a generally peaceful coexistence of live-and-let-live poetry communities, except to those who require, for intellectual comfort, a universal theory of poetry that ties it all together. It also matters to the Poetry Foundation and organizations like it, which must make choices and use their finite resources to support some kinds of poetry while not others.


Efforts to define the difference between poetry and verse (like efforts to define the difference between poetry and prose) have been with us for a long time. Verse is often a term of disparagement in the poetry world, used to dismiss the work of people who want to write poetry but don’t know how. Verse, in this usage, means unsophisticated or poorly written poetry. But quality of writing is not the real difference between the two. Yes, there is plenty of poorly written verse out there, but there is also plenty of poorly written poetry—and sometimes the verse is the better crafted.
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” with no help from the critical establishment, is still going strong after a century, while most early Yeats is read today only because it was written by Yeats. To use verse as a pejorative term, then, is to lose the use of it as a true distinction.

George Orwell gives us another way to think about this when he describes Kipling as “a good bad poet.”
A good bad poem is a graceful monument to the obvious. It records in memorable form—for verse is a mnemonic device, among other things—some emotion which very nearly every human being can share.
Into this same pot Orwell puts “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” the work of Bret Harte—and presumably that of Robert Service. “There is a great deal of good bad poetry in English,” says Orwell; by implication, there is even more bad bad poetry. My own nominations for the latter include the work of Edgar Guest, whose Collected Poems, in a signed limp leather edition, was one of two books of poetry in the house where I grew up (a wedding present to my parents).
Ma has a dandy little book that’s full of narrow slips,
An’ when she wants to pay a bill a page from it she rips;
She just writes in the dollars and the cents and signs her name
An’ that’s as good as money, though it doesn’t look the same.
Orwell’s distinction, between good bad poetry and just plain bad poetry, is one based on quality of execution, of craftsmanship. Good bad poetry is verse competently—even memorably—written. But his distinction leaves unaddressed the nature of the poetry itself.


Verse, I have come to think, is poetry written in pursuit of limited objectives: to entertain us with a joke or tall tale, to give us the inherent pleasures of meter and rhyme. It is not great art, nor is it trying to be. Verse, as Orwell says, tells us something we already know—as often as not something we know we already know. Verse is not an instrument of exploration, but rather a tool of affirmation. Its rewards lie not in the excitements of discovery, but in the pleasures of encountering the familiar. Writers of verse have done their job when they make lines that conform to the chosen meter—and do not go beyond it. Frost’s notion, “The possibilities for tune from dramatic tones of meaning struck across the rigidity of a limited meter are endless,” is unvisited territory. Verse does not seek to know the unknown or to express the unexpected, nor does it undertake the risk of failure that both entail.

“Serious” poetry, on the other hand, is written in pursuit of an open-ended goal. It seeks to use language, in its full potential, to encompass reality, both external and internal, in the fullness of its complexity. Unlike verse, poetry does not bring our experience of the world down to the level of the homily or the bromide, and sum it all up in a soothing platitude. It does not pursue simple conclusions or familiar returns. Rather, it is a voyage of discovery into the unknown. Of the figure a poem makes, Frost says,
Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting. . . . Its most precious quality will remain its having run itself and carried away the poet with it. . . . It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.
A poem begins in delight, he says, and ends in wisdom. Verse begins in delight and ends in . . . more delight. The difference between poetry and verse, then, is the difference between an explorer and a tour guide. Verse tells us, finally, that all is well. Poetry, on the contrary, tells us that things are not as we thought they were. Verse does not ask us to change our lives. Poetry does.

At its best, verse can cross over into the realm of serious poetry. Children’s poetry, in particular, can speak at the same time to its intended audience of the young or very young, while holding the attention of an experienced reader.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
In the recent finals of Poetry Out Loud, the national recitation contest cosponsored by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, if any one poem drove the judges to thoughts of suicide if they had to hear it one more time, it was probably Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” Yet the poem probably stands as high today in the critical community as it does with young readers. Constructed wholly out of neologisms, the poem tells its tale from a parallel universe. Many of the new schools of poetry that followed it in the 20th century could claim “Jabberwocky” as a progenitor. With a little effort, you can even get Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss to resonate with contemporary poetry’s fascination for the nonrational. The nonsense of children’s verse converges with the non-sense of the fanciest experimental poetry.

Most verse has no following in the critical world because it needs none to be understood and appreciated. Most verse also receives no support from the programs of the Poetry Foundation (with the exception of children’s poetry). This is not so much because the Foundation takes a position on the value of verse as poetry, although the legacy of Poetry magazine strongly inclines us to the “serious.” It is rather because the mission of the Foundation is to discover and address poetry’s greatest unmet needs. (The estate of Tupac Shakur is presumably doing just fine without the Poetry Foundation, thank you very much.) The exception is children’s poetry, which the Foundation supports because of its importance to the future of the entire art form. Findings from our major study—Poetry in America—show that a lifelong interest in reading poetry is most likely if developed early and reinforced thereafter.

Whether it’s “Jack and Jill ran up the hill” or “There once was a man from Nantucket,” there is a kind of poem that won’t get out of our ears, even as it refuses our serious attention in the matter of its sense. There is a place in the poetry world for verse—if it is memorably written—and we wish it well in all of its variety.
Originally Published: September 18, 2006


On November 11, 2006 at 8:21pm Josh Warn wrote:
Hmm. Reading this essay and browsing on the

poetryfoundation site may make me change my

mind about reading in cyberspace.

I usually find myself skimming the text on web

sites, in a hurry to get to something solid, as if

digging through a mound of popcorn looking for a

corned beef on rye. Generally on the web the

sandwich is not to be found, but from the first few

sentences of John Barr's piece, I was feeling I

could slow down and chew the food for thought he


On November 27, 2006 at 8:31pm Jesse wrote:
This guy points Tupac in the same category as these meaningless verse writers. Has this guy even listened to Tupac? I highly doubt it. Tupac may not be a Shakespear or W.B. Yeats but his so called verse is a lot more meaningful then what this guy gives it credit for. The same thing goes for rappers such as Common, Nas, Talib Kweli, and even Jay-Z. This guy has a closed mind view on rap. I mean he doesn't even listen to rap. If he did he would have quoted rap lyrics in his article. Sorry but I think this guys being a jerk.

On December 3, 2006 at 4:19am lar wrote:
The author certainly makes some good points. I heartily agree with the statement that there is a great deal of bad poetry out there right now. I would like poetry to be more poetic than much of what I see. Sometimes we need the pleasure of the familiar that the author attributes to verse. Other times we need the challenge of poetry. "Verse does not ask us to change our lives. Poetry does." For myself I need both, but I ask that each be well done. I love the concept that poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom. Poets, let's not skip the delight.

On December 4, 2006 at 6:42pm Jesse wrote:
Oh really Lar, John Donne, Emily Dicknson, Charles Baudelaire, William Butler Yeats, and Edgar Allen Poe ask us to change or lives? Sorry, no they don't. Your overly idealistic idea of poetry challinging us to change our lives makes these great poets out to be verse writers. Art for arts sake. Tupac challanges people to change their lives and attitudes more then above mentioned poets. Does this make Tupac more of a poet then them? Most certainly not. I disagree with just about everything this article says, its written by someone whose close minded. Granted a someone who knows way more about poetry as a whole then I ever will, but still a close minded someone. Your whole idea of poetry challanging people to change their lives also makes John Keats, Shakespear, and E.E. Cummings out to be verse writers. Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

On December 4, 2006 at 6:46pm Jesse wrote:
Once again sorry for their typos. Poetry does often challange our perception of life or reality but that's not necessarily the same thing as challenging us to change our lives, like in joining some political clause or giving more to charity.

On December 4, 2006 at 6:47pm Jesse wrote:
Man I mad more typos, man that's embarrassing.

On December 4, 2006 at 6:48pm Jesse wrote:
I meant made more typos.

On December 7, 2006 at 2:41pm dan wrote:
Dearest Jesse; your typos
embarrass you, it's true
but may I pose a hypo
thetical to you?
Perhaps opinions deeply felt
are sometimes best expressed
by sentances poorly spelt
but pithy nonetheless.

On December 7, 2006 at 10:09pm Jesse wrote:
Dan, Thanks for the compliments. Rap isn’t verse and it isn’t poetry necessarily. Rap is an animal on to itself. Some rap is more poetic then others. I believe Rap has a more socializing message that a lot of poetry. Poetry is often written with the idea of “Oh, I’m an introspective nerd who can talk in metaphors and vague symbolism.? Poetry (with the exception of self consciously political poetry) is often written just for literary and art geeks. Don’t get me wrong I like people like Hart Crane, Sylvia Plath, and a great deal of other poets. I just that don’t find poetry to have a strong social message that some rap has.

On December 12, 2006 at 8:15pm Myron Bland wrote:
When I write verse or poetry I feel changed from its production and I'm certain that the reader is affected. I write to family and friends, outside of that group I would be afraid of creating some type of literary pollution after reading the article. Is it verse or poetry?

"Misery Loves Company"
She wanted love I had to give her.
To God her heart had been delivered.
A spiritual romance, I must interrupt.
Because she is clean, but I am corrupt!

On December 20, 2006 at 1:21pm Jesse wrote:
Myron, This article is bogus in so many ways its not funny. First off if you read the article it says poetry can't end in delight. Wow, that makes a lot of poetry including many poems by Shakespear and poets of the romantic period out to be verse. According to this article poetry has to have a social or philosophical message in order to be poetry. By the way this would make the raps of guys like Tupac and Jay-Z poetry. Also, this article says poems about tall talls aren't poetry. So, that means Homer's the Illiad and The Oddessy are verse not poems. I would agree but most of the poetry community wouldn't. Hey I'm not saying there isn't such a thing as verse but verse is mostly childrens poetry and non sense verse. Hey Tupac may not be a William Blake or Emily Dickinson but he is no childrens poet or non sense verse writer.

On December 28, 2006 at 12:13pm Celestian wrote:
John Barr's article sheds light on many jewels of word-works and poetic imaginings. I think any verse or properly metered pieces carry much value and insight into the author's soul. I'm one for reading the ancients, and the more-tender moments, including victorian ballads. However, I'm also known for writing silly pieces on fools and folly, as well as picture-strung pieces of cowboy days. Just to read another poet's views and works bring me delight. Keep up the good work!

On January 1, 2007 at 4:31am Jesse wrote:
I know I comment on this page too many times. But, I still have thoughts stinging my brain like hornets. You need to wisdom of poetry, Lar? Really, come now man lets not confuse poetry for philosophy. Man poets have tried to play the role of philosopher. While I hate to tell them they are not philosophers. I've always found philosophical poetry to be thought provoking but slightly pretentious. Poets guilty of this crime are T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost to name but two. Hey I love Eliot and Frost but they are talented poets but mediocre philosophers.

On February 13, 2007 at 8:51am J. Patrick Lewis wrote:

Academic exegeses

Labor over which is which.

Simple. Verse is quick and easy.

Poetry's a bitch.

On March 9, 2007 at 9:14am sarah wrote:
what u think of this e mail me if u like it,

rivers of blue

skys of gold

runnin fast doin what i am told

ppl dyin

crouds are cryin world is standin still

drounding in sorrow

no tomorrow


On March 16, 2007 at 12:23am Thomas James Segel wrote:
“For the Dream of Peace?

By: Thomas J. Segel

The sky so blue, the sea so green.

A more lovely sight is seldom seen.

The wind blows and carries my mind away.

To a distant land, and another day.

I see a village by the shore.

A thatch-roofed hut and an open door.

The nets are strung on a beam outside.

They are being sewn with strings of hide.

I can hear the pounding drum.

Calling in each and every one.

From their work and from their play.

For this was a special day.

The yield of the sea had been kind.

There was food for all to find.

And offered for a special feast.

To ride the wind, to tame the beast.

All who came did dance and eat.

Some sat down by the Master’s feet.

To listen to the words he spoke.

Within their hearts the silence broke.

I am here to reveal to you.

The causes of the things you do.

To plant within your heart a seed.

To fill even your deepest need.

To share the mystery of love.

To show you dreams from up above.

To lift your heart and make you whole.

To begin the stirring of your soul.

Be still and know the silence now.

A small still voice will tell you how.

To kindle the fire that dwells within.

Which is the place you must begin.

In silence your soul will speak.

Of the things that men do seek.

Softly spoken and seldom heard.

Comes the most enchanting word.

I am who you are.

Together we are a rising star.

To shine above for all to see.

To find who they must really be.

The journey of your soul must start.

In the essence of your heart.

For it is that precious seed.

That overpowers hate and greed.

To build anew compassion’s fire.

To make love your heart’s desire.

Let your heart direct your course.

Yielding to its tender force.

Standing naked at love’s door.

Cross the threshold with nothing more.

For only love may enter in.

Then from the heart flow out again.

Filled with joy and filled with pain.

The journey of your soul remains.

A mystery in your conscious mind.

Bound by space, locked in time.

In love is found the key.

To open up eternity.

For love cannot be bound.

Within it is the freedom found.

To lift your heart and make you high.

The answer to the question why.

And to love what would you give.

For it allows your soul to live.

Asking nothing in return.

Hoping every heart will learn.

Love needs nothing but itself to grow.

Once the heart is full, it overflows.

To spill out across the skies.

To open up the blinded eyes.

To remind the heart of man.

So that you may take a stand.

And do all that must be done.

For you are the only one.

Who can make the change today.

Within your heart you’ll find the way.

Again he lifted high his voice.

And said that peace must be the choice.

Too long has war been on the land.

Too long has man been killing man.

What causes the killing need.

That comes from fear and comes from greed.

You have forgotten where you come from.

The journey back is hard for some.

To hear the calling of your soul.

To remember the things you know.

That have always been a part of you.

It is part of the job at hand.

To raise the consciousness of man.

To stop the war that wages within.

The only place you can begin.

When peace is found one heart at a time.

The nations will follow down the line.

For when you realize you are your brother.

You can no longer hurt one another.

Peace will come from the inside out.

Then no longer will you shout.

Filled with hurt and filled with pain.

For only peace will then remain.

In passing time, all wounds will heal.

And you will know then what is real.

Peace may shape the destiny of man.

Then once again rule the land.

But it is you who must choose.

Will humanity win or lose.

The changes must start today.

Within your heart you’ll find the way.

The words I speak draw you near.

It is the truth you long to hear.

Truth is a gem among the coal.

It is the food that feeds the soul.

Forged again in passion’s fire.

And becomes the soul’s desire.

It is in truth that love can grow.

It is in truth that peace we know.

It is life and love you give.

When within the truth you live.

In truth awakening begins.

In truth the light may enter in.

May the light fill your soul.

May the higher calling be your goal.

By now many people had come.

Brought by the pounding of the drum.

To the Master they pressed near.

He climbed a hill so all could hear.

As he lifted up his hand.

A stillness fell upon the land.

You have all become my heart.

More words to you will I impart.

The deepness of the truth you feel.

Bears witness to what is real.

And what you know within your soul.

Shows forth in the brightness of your being.

When enlightened is the path you walk.

Joy is found in the way you talk.

What causes this enlightening.

From what does this joy now spring.

Again the trail will lead within.

To the place you must begin.

For only in silent thought.

Is the power of creation caught.

From there it is the light does flow.

And in your heart you will know.

The light is meant to share with all.

And any who will hear the call.

Knowing when the call is heard.

That you will receive the word.

The word is love, peace, truth, and joy.

Found in the heart of girl and boy.

As my gaze falls upon the sea.

I know this joy is meant to be.

Now others pay while I go free.

For the doors are open to me.

I behold the wonder of it all.

And listen to my spirit call.

In recent dreams and ancient time.

Live eternal thoughts sublime.

In the shadowed light I seek.

The meaning of the words I speak.

Found in the heart of all.

Indwelling in the trees so tall.

Heard in the muted breath.

Intertwined in life and death.

Reaching for the faded thing.

Listening to freedom ring


And sound aloud for all mankind.

Marking well for all who find.

That simple peace within your heart.

Again the place that you must start.

So, beloved, take the chance.

Join me in the sacred dance.

Rise and let your spirit fly.

Racing through the windswept sky.

That you may touch the silver strand.

Tied to us by God’s own hand.

As the sun sets upon the shore.

The knowledge of you heart will soar.

Awake again in mystic dreams.

The knowledge of eternal things.

Found at the point of peace within.

Again the place you must begin.

And the truth that you do find.

Must be shared with human kind.

We stand in the temple of the sun.

With no place for us to run.

We must be at peace in our home.

We will never be alone.

All creation reaches out.

It shows us without a doubt.

That we will never cease to be.

It is the same for you and me.

Eternal dreams are now.

In your heart you know how.

Though we stand on the line.

The wind blows the sand of time.

From here and now to evermore.

So together let’s step through the door.

To make the world a better place.

At this point in time and space.

When you realize that we are one.

The people, the planet, and the setting sun.

Be then mindful of what you do.

For what touches one touches all of you.

To the Earth you must be kind.

Learning well from what you find.

In each treasure you behold.

Is a sacred story told.

Of awesome wonder, bold delight.

The precious gift, the clearest sight.

Is there for any who will see.

And in the knowing you will be.

Darkness settled on the land.

In the torch light he did stand.

The people hungered for his words.

And cherished the treasures heard.

Old and young, big and small.

Silence was upon them all.

The Master called a young one near.

Then said to all that would hear.

If you could look through this one’s eyes.

You would see the truth and hear the cries.

Of all of those yet to come.

You would do what must be done.

Your thoughts are of yesterday.

But tomorrow’s child will lead the way.

And follow him you must.

If in love and peace you trust.

We stand upon common ground.

Together our lives are bound.

By the one within us all.

Hoping we will hear the call.

Whispered from that timeless place.

Found upon the child’s face.

In the touch of a stranger’s hand.

Compassion in a foreign land.

The song that causes the heart to sing.

The tenderness that love does bring.

Helping the helpless child.

The gentle spirit, meek and mild.

Let this moment fill your soul.

Listen to the things you know.

Take another by the hand.

Help someone to understand.

What has been given, give away.

Let us start a brand new day.

It is you I treasure in my heart.

What draws you here marks the start.

Of changes in your world today.

Within your heart you’ll find the way.

The moon had risen in the sky.

The people stood with a watchful eye.

One said Master, tell us more.

How may we pass through the door?

With his words he firmly said.

From the darkness you were led.

Now for you the time has come.

To share the light with everyone.

Let your highest thought be love.

The kind that flows from up above.

Let your clearest word be spoken.

Healing hearts that have been broken.

Let every heart beat as one.

Under the temple of the sun.

Let everyone become his brother.

In the heart of God there is no other.

Let compassion fill your soul.

Teaching well from what you know.

Let peace be the path you walk.

Showing forth in how you talk.

Let your truth light the way.

Breaking darkness of the day.

Let everyone do his part.

To heal our planet from the heart.

Let everyone hear the voice within.

Which will direct you home again.

It was now the second day of the feast.

Of riding the wind, of taming the beast.

The people watched for the Master to come.

While they danced to the sound of the drum.

He was the treasure of their land.

For he helped them to understand.

Though alone, he was never apart.

For he was held dearly in each one’s heart.

He arrived on the fourth hour of the day.

All of the people made clear his way.

For him was made a special seat.

Built with love to the flow of the beat.

In their midst he sat above them all.

With outstretched arms, let his spirit call.

To any there that would hear.

So he could once again draw them near.

As silence fell upon that place.

He began to speak with heavenly grace.

My eyes have seen the love you hold.

From my heart another story told.

In dreams of this boundless sea.

Timeless visions come to me.

We are but a vapor in the wind.

But our soul continues without end.

So that when a life falls away.

It is to begin a brand new day.

The sorrow belongs to those left behind.

The departed enters a joy hard to find.

So let your sorrow be brief.

May you feel joy and not grief.

The love that has passed between is forever.

Deep within your heart you will never.

Have to say good-bye, but farewell.

In another place, another time.

Locked inside an ancient rhyme.

You shall see each other again.

It is only the soul that knows when.

I feel the Earth breathe with the surge of the sea.

I am filled with the power it gives to me.

I once again dwell in that timeless place.

I feel the love of the gentle race.

That lives within every heart.

Again the place that you must start.

The message I give is clear.

He who has ears, let him hear.

He who has eyes, let him see.

The wondrous glory meant to be.

Thus were the words he spoke at the feast.

It was he who rode the wind and tamed the beast.

For all who heard let their spirits fly.

On mystic winds of eternal sky.

Within each heart the beast was tamed.

So no one would ever be the blame.

And so it is that this story is told.

To any who will hear and take hold.

Of the truth contained within.

Again the place you must begin.

Thomas James Segel

HC2 Box 12-1

Gainesville, Mo. 65655

On March 31, 2007 at 11:30pm verse wrote:
"The Open Door will be the policy of this magazine—may the great poet we are looking for never find it shut, or half-shut, against his ample genius! To this end the editors hope to keep free from entangling alliances with any single class or school. They desire to print the best English verse which is being written today, regardless of where, by whom, or under what theory of art it is written. Nor will the magazine promise to limit its editorial comments to one set of opinions."

"They desire to print the best English verse which is being written today"

Was this ever really accomplished?

It is past time for a definition of art. Read defining art by J Ben Water to better understand what poetry is, and is not.

Thank you for your time

On April 21, 2007 at 5:26pm Jess wrote:
Bloomin' heck Thomas James Segel. How long was that poem? You trying to do an epic on us?! And to have to endure it twice but in two different forms (only joking, from what I read it was nice).

On May 1, 2007 at 3:38am Thomas James Segel wrote:
The Ballad of A Hundred Lives


Thomas J. Segel

Soup for my heart and frosting for my brain:

Joy fills my heart as I think of mystic rains.

God’s tempest did kiss the ocean’s waves,

And sent the smell of salt and spray a-dancing to my face.

Majestic falls so clear and free

Came tumbling to the sea.

Did thrill my heart and

Fill my mind with how a man should be.

While at my side the Rose of Life did sigh,

And sing a woman’s prayer.

Of life, and love, and forgotten songs…

Of wind in children’s hair…

With thoughts of past and future mixed

The honking geese did fly,

Towards the sun to kiss the clouds

And praise the earth and skies.

Then came a clash of mind-to-mind

That shattered the woman’s prayer,

While upon her burned the eyes

Of saddened life, and lost despair.

O Woman! You have climbed a mountain

Seeking Kingdoms at the top….

And I am but a man and can not

Tell you when to stop.

Still you sing and still you laugh

And joy is now at hand:

One day you will sigh and then

We will fly to kiss the angel band,

And then be sent back to earth to labor hand-in-hand!

Look upon the boundless ocean

Place your ear in the billowing wind;

Turn around, then look back again!

The world has turned another time.

And left dreams of satin

Memories of bittersweet wine….

Moods do change as summer to fall;

But how many will stand up to the call?

Of love so rightly wronged?

By the sound of a crying lovebird’s song.

And who will stand in the flaming light

Of warm expression on a cold winter’s night.

To sing a song of love anew

And let its laughter ring in the morning’s dew.

Even now as a fire lights the night,

You stumble on and hug the ground

Like a stranger with loss of sight.

O Woman standing on the edge of time!

Cast away your silver dreams of wine.

Then turn and run into the depths of night,

And let the flames of love be your guiding light.

I am but a drop in a boundless sea,

But even now my God has his eyes on me.

I know he will break the darkness and give me sight,

By sending me just one true love that is right.

On the crossroads I stand alone,

Just waiting to find my heart a home.

I shall not falter in my task,

To find myself a love to last.

O Lady standing beneath the ancient oak,

Creating visions in the golden smoke.

And giving wings to the angels’ song,

Of love that cannot go wrong.

One day I shall find just where I belong.

Shine O stars, cast off your radiant beams,

For I know you are sending down sparkling dreams.

You set my mind afire,

Burning with just one desire:

That is to catch you before you fall,

Or to climb one of your beams so tall.

You hold the key to Heaven’s Door…

I know I needn’t say anymore.

But still the night lingers on,

Dancing and singing its fruitless songs.

You must beware of the moon-eyed maiden,

Her hair a’golden and eyes of satin,

She will show you splendor in her arms.

Then build in you a raging fire,

That will scorch your soul as her flames reach higher.

Heed my warnings: I tell no stories,

For many lost souls have died in her glories.

Even now I must ramble on,

After singing to you my crazy song.

I can tell you where we are all headed in this world,

That is, before we climb those steps of pearl.

Stop! Look around! What do you see?

Your friends, a jug of wine and me.

And so to you this tale is told,

Of a poor little man with a whole lot of gold.

Take from this ballad just what you can,

For I have my own joy to spread throughout the land.

A gold-spun love that I know will not die,

She walks by my side and I needn’t ask why.

O Lord, I do thank you for this heavenly gift

You have taken my poor heart from the drift

Of longing for love the whole night through

And you have stopped a lonely soul from wandering, too.

Give me the strength to carry on,

And let all be right when the day is done.

The sun shining in through the trees,

The wind fills my heart with a fragrant breeze.

I hear the sounds of a princess come to call,

Her silver voice rings through the halls.

Of the once-dead temple of love,

Made alive by my God up above.

If you care to sing my song.

We will dance together the whole day long.

Listen to the call of the lost sheep,

Who wonder all the day then cry in their sleep.

For theirs is the saddest of tunes,

Played by the wind as it howls at the moon.

And now ninety-nine lives have passed,

And I have but just one to last.

Till the golden trumpets blow,

And the Lord comes down to claim my soul.

So I bid you all have peace of mind,

For no one really knows the time.

When there will be no more songs and no more wine.

Watch the sea otters on the reefs as they play,

Caressing the aqua-blues waves all the day.

Stand if you will on the purple sands,

And look up at the trees created by God’s own Hand.

Blow O Wind: Carry your message afar,

You know how right you are.

Let the birds in the sky take to wing.

They truly hear the song you sing.

Hear Mother Nature’s joyful cry,

And let her sacred children fly.

All of this is God’s monument to man,

So my last life I will lay in His Hands.

I now have an everlasting worldly love,

To take with me to heaven above!

And I have found my wandering heart a home,

So no more will it have to roam.

And I have ended the endless task,

To find myself an eternal love to last.

But in my search for this brilliant love,

I’ve followed many a path to hold my star up above;

And I could not touch or possess truth’s gold,

Until I saw the road of my own soul.

On May 6, 2007 at 3:03pm Bob Wombacher, Jr. wrote:
I'm newly a part of your readership and listenership. I would like to submit some of my own humorous rhymes, but I fail to find how to do it in your website. Would you be kind enough to steer me thru the mechanics of submitting poetry? Thank you.

Bob Wombacher, Jr.

On June 29, 2007 at 12:55am Robert wrote:
Sure, Bob, just do what this Thomas James Segel person is doing -- totally ignore the purpose of this forum and slather innocent people interested in intelligent discourse regarding the article at hand with all the verse your little heart can muster.

Sorry, Bob, that sarcasm isn't aimed at you whatsoever. I don't know the answer to your question. I do know I'm about sick of apparently unpublished (read: amateur) poets using these opinion forums as a makeshift way to shove their 'work' down unsuspecting throats like a sucker-punch. It's dishonest. (And hey, Thomas, if your stuff is so great that you're desperate to spring it onto the world any way you can, why aren't you published? I wouldn't know if it's good or not, I refuse to read even a word of it on principle. I dismiss that sort of guerrilla-tactic 'publishing', along with its purveyors, summarily.)

If I want to read amateur poetry, I have plenty of alternatives to a forum set up specifically for discussion of a specific piece of work under which it appears. If poetry is good, it'll show up where it's supposed to eventually. This is not the place to cram it.

On July 4, 2007 at 10:33am Thomas James Segel wrote:
The Crystal King


Thomas J. Segel

Sailing on a sea of sound, living in the air,

The Captain turns the ship around to show us that he cares.

The waters of this love so true show crystal-sparkling blue,

And all the world holds hope in hand and turns their eyes toward you.

We have waited so long for you to come and take your ship

And now we are all climbing on to join you on your trip.

And even though the skies be red on early morning seas,

With perilous times ahead and our journey meant to be,

We give you complete command, for we love you and the sea.

So then we trim the sails and head toward the Northern Lights,

And those at home grow smaller as we sail then out of sight.

Our eyes then turn toward the sea and toward the Southern Cross,

While we catch the trades winds and follow the albatross.

The Captain then stands over the ship, a mighty man is he,

And all the crew stands speechless, not a dry eye can be seen.

“I love you,? bellowed out a voice that traveled over the sea,

“and need every one of you, e’er this journey is meant to be.?

And his voice did tremble as he stretched forth his hand,

He said, “You have chosen to follow me into this magic land.

I do not know where our sails will lead or what mysteries will unfold,

And I have never promised you riches, silks or gold.

But the things that we will share sailing this universe,

Will belong to you and me for better or for worse.?

We then unfurled the sails and laid our course toward the sky,

Without a single one of us asking the captain why.

Sailing through the causeway on our journey through the stars,

Adrift we found the vagabonds, all shipwrecked, cut and scarred.

We quickly pulled them aboard, our brethren of the sea,

And made them part of the crew; our Captain was very pleased.

“Our lives you have given us,? said these giants of the North,

“At your service we remain, no matter what your course.?

The winds blew cold over our souls; I was lashed to the wheel.

The Captain came out to relieve me, for he had felt the cutting chill.

“Go below, my friend,? said the Captain with a smile.

The warmth that penetrated my heart would last me all the while.

The crew did dance below the deck, though we were tumbled and tossed,

But we weathered the mighty storm and not a single soul was lost.

We worked hard mending our ship from torn sail and busted boom;

Our hands were busy stitching sails and cleaning every room.

When all the work was done, more merriment was made,

The rum was passed, the songs were sung, as we danced and played.

‘Twas early in the morn, I heard the watchman’s cry,

“Land ahead! I see it clear !? A welcome sight, I sighed.

“Look off the starboard bow! Tall peaks do fill the air!?

And many a sore eye were glued to the northern fjords out there.

With the suddenness of a heart beat, the northern winds did squall,

Then a wave came over the bow, thirty cubits tall!

Our ship then came to rest inside a sheltered cove.

The crew was so happy, some from the mast they dove

And swam ashore to climb the rock and feel the solid ground.

They kissed the shore and joined their hearts

In the most beautiful of sound:

“Thank you, Oden; Thank you, Thor, from our journey you have brought

Us to the shore of our birth and the land of our thought.

You did pluck us from the sea, all shipwrecked, cut and scarred,

And delivered us to our home, the journey perilous and hard.

But now we find we love you and your brethren we remain.

When it is time to leave, we will sail with you again.

A landing party went ashore, following these giants of the north;

They embraced us well and filled our stores, so we could stay our course.

They then showered us with gifts for bringing their kinsmen home,

And they took us into their hearts, for we never felt alone.

The Captain then summoned us all; it was the calling of the sea.

And he said, “All hands on board, e’er this journey is meant to be.?

He then surveyed the crew, both southern men and north,

We all stood arm-in-arm, each man knowing his worth.

He said with a pounding heart, “A fine crew you have become!

And with all of you under my command, there is nothing that cannot be done.

We have all felt the peril of the sea,

And you have all stood fast and brave, and stole the heart of me.

So, on we will sail, together, with more mysteries to unfold;

And we will share the treasure, be it death, riches or gold.?

Again we trimmed the sails and followed the Northern Lights,

Bidding farewell to our new-found friends as we sailed then out of sight.

The Northern Lights grew brighter as we followed our course,

And though the days be darkened, we could feel the force…

Of something much stronger than we have ever felt before,

And it somehow frightened me as we drew nigh unto the door.

The ice looked like cathedrals—spires shooting in the air—

And there was a dark, ominous hole between two of them out there!

The Captain steered our ship toward that darkened hole,

And the crew was frightened and holding on for their very souls.

As we went through the abyss, a bright light began to glow,

And the crew felt at ease, for the light did bless our souls.

The lights were dancing off the ice with a diamond glitter-glow:

The whole crew was wide-eyed, for such things we had never known.

As we stood in awe at the wondrous, crystal shimmering lights brightly shone,

The Captain then called to the crew saying, “These riches you can never own.

So fill your eyes and fill your hearts with the beauty you behold.?

In silence then we did sail for the next day or two,

And all of us looked younger, for in the lights we were renewed.

The crew gathered together as we fell upon our knees,

And thanked the Lord for life given to us in our deepest need.

Our eyes were filled with wonder in this world of the unknown;

Sparkling shards were everywhere, some from the sky were grown.

The sparkling lights were shimmering as young men we became,

Each of us with the strength of ten so young and strong we remain.

The Captain said, Behold, an Ice Palace lay ahead!?

We sailed toward it in silence, not a single word was said.

“It is from this place the Northern Lights do shine…?

And though we all felt drunkened, no one had touched the wine.

The sound of angels came from the palace bold,

And we all listened as we heard the story told:

“ ‘Tis the Palace of the Crystal King, The keeper of the Lights.

We are all here to serve him well, and have watched your journey’s flight

From the day that you set sail from your southern land,

And though you never noticed it, we have led you by the hand.

So do come in and join us here!

Our King desires your presence near.

So come now and present yourselves, starting with your Captain, brave and true,

And let him be paraded in, carried by the rest of you.

All of your needs will be met, and even your wants so true,

So come and join us now; the King is awaiting you!?

Our ship came to rest at a crystal dock,

Crystal sleds then pulled us to the Palace rock

Where they were tied and we went in

To present ourselves before the King

At the doors we did stand and step back in awe,

And once again we could hear the palace call.

The tall doors did slowly open, and music came pouring out—

A sound so pure it made us want to jump and shout!

We composed ourselves and lined up for parade;

Inside the door a throne was set to carry our Captain brave.

We paraded in through the halls

Of sparkling shards and shimmering walls.

We passed then through two more large doors into the chamber of the lights:

This is the place where all is well and it never has been night!

As we gazed at crystals growing up through the ground,

With each of them shimmering and making the most beautiful sound.

And though the stones were singing, from each was a story told

Of our journey from the start—stories perilous and bold:

In each one were images of each portion of our trip;

They showed us all of the crew as well as the Captain and the ship.

The chamber of the Lights was so large we could not see the other side.

As we carried our Captain down the crystal walk, our hearts were full of pride!

The shimmering glitter-glow was sparkling around,

Filling our ears and filling our hearts was the most beautiful of shimmering sound

Of the story stones and the singing walls—

And all of this contained within the shimmering chamber hall.

The crystal walk was lined with crystal story stones

Leading up to the cathedral-like chair—the likes of which we have never known.

We came to a stop before the steps to the chair and let our Captain down;

We then all stood in awe as we gathered around.

Our Captain bold then stood up and gazed upon the chair;

An angel’s voice called to him saying, “Climb up and be seated there.?

Our Captain slowly climbed the steps to this majestic throne,

And as he sat down upon it, the shimmering lights were brightly shown!

A sound so beautiful did fill the air as an angel choir began to sing,

They raised their voices in unison singing, “Behold The Crystal King!

The Crystal King is here!

We have waited so long to have him near.

It was time for you to come—

Now all the world will pound the drum.

The Crystal King is here;

The world will see it clear!

His love is felt throughout the world; now the time has come

The rising of the Son.

The Crystal King is here

All the world will see it clear!

The Crystal King is here!

And it could only be you

With your heart so brave and true—

It could only be you!?

The angels then did bow down before the throne in adoration

After which he was lifted up in complete exaltation.

As the angels lifted our Captain brave,

We realized then he was our King and our allegiance gave.

As we bowed down together, both Southern men and North, We could feel the love of our new-found King, and we could feel his worth.

As we looked up to see our King,

A bright light was shining behind his head in the shape of rings,

The glory that we only then did see

Was almost far too much with me.

For my heart did fill with love,

Which did flow to me from up above.

And all of the crew did feel the same

As we began to sing his name.

“Behold, the Crystal King! Our hearts are now filled with love

You have sent to us from above.

“Behold, the Crystal King! The world will be a better place

Since you have come to take your place.

“Behold, the Crystal King! “Behold, the Crystal King!?

The Captain then came down to greet us and said, “I love everyone of you.?

Each of you may decide what you want to do.

You may remain here with me, or go back to your home so true.

If you remain here with me, you will never grow old.

If you decide to leave, you may take diamonds, gems and gold.

I was the only one who decided to leave that day,

So the angels brought me and the ship home all the way.

The Captain gave me the title, and many chests of gems and gold:

Someone had to leave so this story could be told.

As for the rest of the crew,

They were led into a garden true

With fruit on every tree,

And animals tame to you and me.

As for our Captain bold, his love spread from there throughout all lands….

For he is the Crystal King, and still he leads me by the hand!

Thomas James Segel

On August 4, 2007 at 3:51pm Denny Lancaster wrote:
[quote]the Foundation takes a position on the value of verse as poetry, although the legacy of Poetry magazine strongly inclines us to the “serious.? It is rather because the mission of the Foundation is to discover and address poetry’s greatest unmet needs.[/quote]

I whole heartedly agree with the quote above and applaud the Foundations accomplishments and goals.

However to me one unmet need is to encourage the ordinary to become extraordinary. Dr. Sue Walker, Poet Laureate of Alabama seeks meet "this unmet need" each time she makes an appearance to our school children.

Her efforts remove the perceived snobbery and elitist mentality among cloistered poetry groups and help to bring poetry back into the main stream of society and its rightful place.

On April 12, 2008 at 7:21pm F.J. Bergmann wrote:
The poetry community will always be "balkanized," to use Mr. Barr's term, regarding what constitutes "good" or "real" poetry. W.H. Auden wrote much that is considered "light verse," but carries incisive and intense messages. Perhaps what needs to be relegated to the second-rate are the poems that have only one superficial, shallow level of meaning--Tupac's lyric above being a prime example.

And I'd like to mention that it is absolutely tacky to use a comments board intended for discussion of an article to post one's own work, or to promote one's cronies.

On June 30, 2008 at 4:43pm Maria wrote:
Though I'm quite certain that Jesse hasn't looked at this page in months, I have to express my complete disdain for everything he has posted. Jesse, it seems that you are only familiarizing yourself with the poets your high school teacher probably set in front of you. We all know the big names, but that doesn't make them the best names, nor does it make you a credible authority in any capacity. And you speak about the pretention in the essay, yet you yourself seem completely unrelenting and unwilling to digest what was being said. You made the author out to be an absolutist, which I found no evidence of. And essays are meant to be editorial in many cases. I think you have completely misread and misquoted what was written, and I don't think you displayed any worthy evidence to support what you claim to know. When you can read a poem and feel it palpitate in your fingertips, make you itch and crave, afflict you with a despair or joy so potent that only death itself could dilute it, when you can stop name dropping and even admit that while you may not agree with the essay, it used language quite effectively (which is the point after all) then maybe I could stand your inane dribble when you rebuttle.

On July 17, 2008 at 8:38am roy k austin wrote:
I rather like L Bernsteins affirmations

about writing poetry. must be rooted in earth. It should scan unless you are a walt whitman. The verb should do the work, it should point beyond itself and have similie, metaphor and so on. in other words the usual canons. It should be in contemporary language and avoid too much adjective. Having said all that it is open to any subject under the sun-

Do you take poems? Roy.......................

On October 14, 2008 at 12:24am Lucerna wrote:
The world of poetry is full of snobbery. It doesn't surprise me that the lyrical side of music is ignored in the world of poetry and treated like a step-sibiling.

On November 11, 2008 at 9:34pm HairyMan wrote:
Not bad... Not bad.

On December 8, 2008 at 10:51pm Mary Curtis wrote:
I though the article and its position had

merit, especially the delineation between

verse and poetry.

Yeats remains one of my favorites though.

On December 23, 2008 at 2:18pm Michael of Venice CA wrote:
Verse or poem. Hip hop or rap. A "poem" or not. If it's good, I like it. If it sucks I don't. I don't care what you call it.... As artists, I believe we should all strive to have open minds (to different forms of expression).

I've been going to and reading and performing at poetry venues for 15 years in the Los Angeles area, both "literary traditional" poetry, "slam poetry", "spoken word", hip hop, combinations, etc... I've also been hosting for over a decade. I have heard words expressed beautifully, exquisitely, with rich meaning, from the worldly to the more socially conscious, to the seemingly trivial, in all the above mentioned styles, forms, and genres. And when it works, it just works.

If different spoken or written artists gravitate to a certain form of poetry or verse or spoken word, and others don't... fine. That's a natural social human (if not animal) thing. But the dissing of other writers using different styles just amounts to a kind of catty, literary masturbation. I do believe, the writer of the article was respectful of the different forms, and should be commended.

I thought the article made some good points, other points seem a bit fuzzy to me. The comments on this board help round it all out. And that's the point of having this board, is it not? For a community. To support the art we love.

My only criteria is does the piece make me (as the audience or reader) experience something meaningful and/or beautiful. If it does, I like it. If the intensity of the meaningfulness and/or beauty increases, I tend to like it more.

Peace, folks...

On April 1, 2009 at 9:30pm Frank Hajcak,Ph.D. wrote:
Dear John Barr
Stumbled on your article, “Is it poetry or verse." Would love to comment on it in detail, with particular reference to the creative process, Schopenhauer’s categorical imperatives, Picasso's("Rules & good taste are the enemies of creativity.), the history & evolution of schools of art and the death of my love for poetry when poets started writing verbal mathematical puzzles that came from the head not the heart; and seemed to have forgotten that poetry is a form of communication and as such requires an audience that resonates or can relate to the message, condemning the art to a hand full of poetic purist that somehow convinced themselves purity was more important than audience comprehension, forgetting that successful communication is a 2 way street. The listener or reader must want & try to understand the message and the speaker or writer must deliver the message in a way that can be understood.
Unfortunately I will be on the other side of the planet til end of April. If this topic is still posted when I return I'd love to dialogue more. As a psychologist & author on creativity I have a few concerns about the future of the art.
Frank Hajcak,Ph.D.

On December 6, 2009 at 1:08pm naporsha gilliam wrote:
you expire me

On December 13, 2009 at 11:48pm A. M. Thompson wrote:

Fellow lovers of the word- While this article and its comments have some points, I am concerned to see such effort put into labeling art 'good,' 'bad,' 'poetry,' or 'not poetry.' I understand the worry over the quality of written art being produced today... but am none-the-less disheartened by efforts to break down, categorize, and otherwise deplete the written word. I will agree I am also not impressed with the examples Barr gave, but would argue that just because they are mediocre, doesn't mean they aren't poetry. The shallowness of most popular art, music, and writing is an issue that is burning to be well addressed- however, I don't think that trying to draw arbitrary boundary lines between what is called what, is actually getting to the heart of the issue, or helping 'save' poetry. The problem is not that mediocre writing is being called poetry, but that mediocre writing is gaining such widespread popularity it's overshadowing the possibility and depth in this magical and once-venerated art form. Frankly, I don't give a shit what some "well studied" individual considers "Poetry" or not...I'm concerned about the general lack of interest in the act of making deep, authentic writing in the first place. It seems as if so much of the popular musical and lyrical outpourings of our time are indicative of a culture that needs to let off some steam, but can only just skim off the surface. This art may be paltry, but it is still real, and obviously very relatable for a large number of people. What I would hope to see such a large organization of poets do, would be not to bicker about what they consider 'art' and instead get their asses writing thoughtfully on what we're seeing means- and challenging it, not denegrating it. Just as a good teacher encourages a child's first attempts and gives her more examples to feed the fire, so must the leaders of poetry get creative in ways to channel this energy into more articulated work. There is nothing wrong with "bad poetry." We've all done it... we've all needed to do it... and sometimes, it's just fun to play with words and exalt in their sounds and rhyming, and colorful verses. This is what gets the juices flowing! This is what makes beginners love poetry in the first place! Like any other craft, an intrest must be piqued to give the explorer enough energy to follow it into its depths. At first, it's nursery rhymes, then funny verses, then structure, then free verse then... your limits are removed, you have the tools, and you can really start going somewhere... hopefully somwhere significant and transformative. Mr. Barr, I agree that there is some poor poetry out there, God bless it, but let's not waste our time nit-picking... let's provide forum and encouragment for all stages of development, and finding ways to meet people where they're at. You're the Poetry Foundation for christsake! In your mission statment you explain that, "the Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry." I therefore expect you to be open-mindedly showcasing a genre-bending variety of what poetry is doing in the 21st century, not clinging to old rules and standbys as measuring sticks for the modern era. I would encourage you to keep in mind that what makes one poet's pants wet makes another one yawn, and that the 'finest' poetry is subjective at best. In the interest of keeping this art thriving, let's put our efforts into encouraging ALL poets and helping them grow, not tearing down what work is out there- whether we agree with it, or not. Having an essay such as this so prominently displayed on your website seems to speak more to your particular personal preferences than your appreciation for the act of writing, and seems contradictory to how the Poetry Foundation is striving to represent itself, and what poetry actually needs. I beg you to reconsider your position, and your rigid approach to this matter. Sincerely, Angela Marie Thompson

On December 30, 2009 at 2:57am Paul Ulrich wrote:
I know it to be true:
I aspire to be nothing more than a good bad poet —
a poetaster whose work the cognoscenti consider a disaster—
scribbling lines that may rhyme and follow meter,
that choose the simple over the complex,
the unadorned over embellishments.
No fancy flourishes will you find here –
no—no self-indulgent marvels of linguistics;
I’ll hew to English as spoken,
opting for aged Anglo Saxon over bastardized imports.

I will aim to delight the ear, to entertain,
perhaps to move, but not seriously will I
ask my readers to change their lives – why? Should they?
Nor will I waste their time.
I am merely a guide for the familiar,
not an explorer of the unknown.
I fall back on recognizable words—
solid ones, with bite and substance,
rather than whimsical creations or Latinations,
or that worst of abomination – foreign
words intent on boasting of false erudition.

On March 9, 2011 at 11:01am Jake wrote:
My first and last visit here, and, probably, my last. Any site that allows egomaniacal people like Segal to use a column to his own ends, without deleting it, is a bit too complicit for my tastes.

Before I came across the "Segal," I thought to write about the difference between verse and, what, by my standards at least, is prose, and how prose is being passed off, and acclaimed, even, as poetry. Bull.

On October 16, 2011 at 2:30pm Brian Densham wrote:
Just ran across this article and its consequences.

Thoughtful article, unexpected comments and commentators.

No serious poetry buffs (may I call you buffs?) willing to weigh in?

Or is this commentary simply another example of how the social medium must inevitably reveal the social median?

On November 19, 2015 at 7:31am autodesk shareholder wrote:
Could verse be described as comfort food, often served in couplets, while poetry comes from the realm of the daring, innovative, artistic chef?

On November 19, 2015 at 8:52pm Lee wrote:
Echoing N. Gilliam: You expire me too.
For the last few weeks I've been reading nothing much but the poems
of two of my favorites, Ezra Pound and Basil Bunting; but earlier
tonight I read again "The Ballad of Sam McGee". Now to me a poem
is the brilliant, intense use of language. If that includes the "Combray"
secttion of Proust's wonderful creation, that's okay. If it excludes the
best of Robert W. Service, that's not (at all) okay.

On December 31, 2015 at 1:04am David L. Smith wrote:
Thank you, Brian Desham, for a very enlightening and thoroughly engaging Zen exercise on what a "serious poetry buff" is.

I must have spent almost five days on my reaction to John Barr's article "Is It Poetry or Is It Verse?" before I came to the conclusion that you were joking (fooled me!), and that you were instead making a satirical nod to any good poet ... good enough to leave President Barr's vanity piece for the Foundation advertisement it is and follow one's own heart instead. He need not concern himself with any impudent enough to attack the central theme; Mr. Barr destroys his own argument in the third section (first paragraph past "3"), and later reminds us that he is leading a flock and himself into his own tastes. Remember that the chief administrator of any business must have a vision that shapes a mission ( "... to discuss and address poetry's greatest unmet needs"); this gives the other workers something to do. Unfortunately, John Barr is not qualified to teach "what is poetry and what is worse" in a cruel-spirited manner unacceptable by the very standards this website states it accepts your comments. John Barr would divine poetry's goats from sheep but offers no proof or evidence that does not contradict - and in fact negate - what the poor man is trying to convince someone. Telling you what poetry is is like telling you what you love; telling you what not to love is pointless.

The best proof for the difference between poetry and prattle is in the 1934 (?) movie The Scarlet Pimpernel, as explained by Leslie Howard somewhere between the first utterance Sir Percy Blakeney's silly poem and his revelation to Raymond Massey's Chauvelin (and to all of us) what poetry really is.

An equally convincing proof can be found between the works of two poets. The Poetry Foundation website has quite a few of the works of John Barr; I recommend everyone to take a good look at the kind of poems you are expected (not encouraged) to write. Me ... I'm not making it that easy for you - or any human being. To write like me, you have to be a little bit of almost every known poet of the past three millennia or so - and use it to full advantage and to full effect. Perhaps you can find it in the verses President Barr has left behind; perhaps you can find it here, in some of mine: All I can offer is what the dismissive article does not: proof of my ideas.

The one item I would like to refute now is for anyone: poets (dashing poets, voluptuous poetesses) are both explorers and tour guides, the most vital being ... the latter. Surprised? A writer has full control over his/her words (Edgar Cayce is excused), and therefore has full control over what he/she WANTS to show you; the success is in how well the refracted vision is re-refracted in the reader's mind. Face it, Mr. Densham: you had to be willing to get past the first few words of this writing ... to get to here; all poetry could care less what poets have to say about the art, but I would venture that excellent poetry (why settle for being good?) lures just so.

You are the tour guide; poetry older than both Mr. Barr's and my great-grandparents combined attests to this. One thing about ancient wisdom is that it turns out half the time to be something we knew all along, but must have ... forgotten? (This should lay to rest what Mr. Barr could not successfully convey about what we expect.) Every single moment is life is exploration; to capture that on paper is a blessing, but to do so in a way that someone else "gets" require nothing less than sure and steady guide who knows where you will be led (you can tell when a poet is not paying attention to the reader).

Again: the proof is in the pudding ... and for goodness sake, don't look to anyone here to tell you what to like and not like. That's why I dedicate this, Mr. Desham ...

... to Lucerna. You are not only one of very few who gets it, but you did it in a very concise and illustrative manner. I call that poetry. Thank you.

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 John  Barr


John Barr served as the first president of the Poetry Foundation from 2004 to 2013, where he worked with the board to develop the Foundation's strategic plan and to build a permanent home for Poetry magazine, the first in its 100-year history. He has taught in the graduate writing program of Sarah Lawrence College and has served on the boards of the Poetry Society of America, Yaddo, and Bennington College.

Barr grew up in Lisle, . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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