Why Poetry Isn’t Read: Misunderstanding What It Is?
People who don’t read poetry have strange ideas about what poetry actually is. They may associate it with those dead poets they had to read in school and so assume what makes something a poem is the use of accentual/syllabic meter and the regular pattern of end rhyme that was common in English poetry from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century. This, of course, means they’ll consider Hallmark card doggerel to be poetry, but not most of the good poetry written since the beginning of the twentieth century. And they probably didn’t get enough enjoyment from reading those poems they were assigned in high school to want to seek out poetry as an adult reader.
The common use of the adjectival form gets closer to the real meaning of poetry. We are recognizing the essence of poetry when we say something is “poetic”, meaning an expression of something that rises high above the mundane. My preferred definition, which I believe to be shared by most poets, is that poetry is simply the most effective and efficient use of language. It uses every appropriate tool available in the language to accomplish this: the sound of the words, their cadence, even their appearance on the page. But it has nothing to do with mandatory unjustified margins and line breaks—or a regular meter and rhyme scheme. Those are tools that may or may not be used depending on whether or not they are judged to be the best means to the end. This is why prose can justifiably be called poetic, why ‘prose poem’ isn’t an oxymoron.
So don’t ever recommend a book as poetry. Recommend a book by simply saying it is poetic.