Poetic Peeves

ReadinginBetween_The Difference between Poetry and Prose

Some “poets” on the internet aren’t actually writing poetry, you guys.

There. I said it. I don’t like picking fights, but this has been eating at me for a very. Long. Time.

That thing on Instagram or Tumblr lots of people SAY is a poem? IT’S NOT A POEM. It’s just a normal sentence that they broke up into lines. Worse, it’s a cliche (or a string of cliches) that seem profound:

Your heart is full of fiery love

warming me in the dark stormy night

chasing away the fright.

You are my light

If they insist on calling these abominations “poetry”, then I will be forced to call them out on it: what you have there is poor poetry. Horribad poetry.

The simple solution to the poor poetry problem

It’s not their fault, actually. School systems (ours in the Philippines, in particular) often fail to teach the REAL difference between poetry and prose when they introduce the concept to young minds. They mostly just show us poems, what they look like, and then teach us poetic devices. Or they just tell us what the poems MEAN.

This, I think, leads to lots of misconceptions and bad habits.

To solve this problem (I don’t care what you say; THIS IS A PROBLEM), I’d like to share with you this basic premise:

ReadinginBetween_The Difference between Poetry and Prose

This is, of course, a simplified way of putting it. A lot of people, after all, get feels from prose; and poetry could, in fact, tell stories. But I firmly believe that arguments like that muddy the issue.

The point is that poetry as a literary form mainly concerns itself with conveying emotions or experiences, while the main focus of prose is to tell a story.

Another way to put it is this: it’s important for prose to have some sense of past, present, and future. Poetry doesn’t concern itself with that; it focuses on MOMENTS.

That time you went to a sushi restaurant and got into a fight with another customer? That’s better told in prose.

That feeling of being so angry that you imagined the sashimi in your mouth is the tongue you bit out of that bastard’s bigoted mouth? That’s better told in poetry.

The Fun Fundamentals of Poetry

Note: An expanded version of this discussion is actually available to people participating in a series of poetry lessons I’m providing to a small group of people (whose poetry will be published by Project: TIMES).

When you keep those differences in mind, it’s much easier to understand why the following are so fundamental to poetry:

  • Imagery – this is a non-literal but descriptive way to communicate a feeling or experience (this covers all senses; sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and everything in between)
  • Sound – in poetry, this is the means by which you use the sound of words to enhance the meaning or feeling you want to convey (a.k.a. rhymes, puns, and word choice can make a HUGE difference)
  • Rhythm – in poetry, this refers to the way you put emphasis on words and lines of your poem to effectively communicate significant points in your experience (a.k.a. where you put your pauses MATTERS)

All of these elements speak to creating (or re-creating) an emotion or experience that you would want your reader to understand.

See, while you can argue that plain speech or prose can express emotion and experience (everyone understands “I feel sad”), you can’t say that they comprehend the precise kind of experience and emotion you had (“My heart has a blue chamber“). Poetry—proper poetry, at least—works hard to make the abstract concrete.

Stop supporting bad poetry

For the love of god, stop calling people who write with no sense of imagery, sound, or rhythm “poets”. Ignore internet “poets” who rely on cliches, who have little to no sense of originality. Beware of false depth and emotion.

You know better now.

You Ask?! – A Poem

Quick note: this is an attempt to write poem using my prose style…not sure it worked, but I had fun with it.


Take a side –
this cause or that?
If I don’t, you just think I’m bad.
Try to speak in neutral tones,
and get compared to mud.

Not allowed on a brick wall;
you will just pull me to the floor.
When I try for compromise-
well, I’m the one who gets shot.

Don’t know why everyone insists on the extremes.
As if they’re Jesus-perfect.

To me it just seems your point to arguing is to simply scream.

So you call me unjust,
but are you even listening now?
‘Cause it looks to me as if you’re only hearing what you want.

I’ve barely made a sound,
and you are midway through a shout.

You are tearing your own throat over such shallow shadow grounds.

You ask me why I hide?
You ask me why I walk away?