Like most kids, I went through the All Poetry Must Rhyme phase.

Then a little later in school, rhyme was less essential (especially in English, a less rhyme-compatible language than many other Romance ones) -- it was all about Meter and Structured Forms.

But I know there's more than that. Some people focus on crystalline imagery and perfect words. Often it seems to be "all about the line breaks."

But if I typically write precisely, with a bit of internal flair, what differentiates

  • me writing up about dream for a casual blog post,


  • me writing about a dream to be one poem in a collection in a chapbook (or submitted to a magazine or whatnot)?

(Similar to What makes a poem a poem? , which seems about the continuum between prose and poetry - looking mostly at formal, pre-published works. My question aims more at the casual side: how casual can it be and still be a poem?

Related -- I don't think "amount of effort" is what counts -- oral tradition built on rhyming units or phrases with distinct rhythmic value (rose-fingered dawn), and rappers/lyricists are similarly immersed in rhyme and meter, so work that would be hard for me could be easier for them; and others struggle with academic writing, but in undergrad, I could do that 20 minutes before the paper was due.

2 Answers 2


As I suggested in response to the question you cite, poetry is writing that intentionally acts in dimensions that prose ignores.

Any individual dimension which renders a thing a poem might be eliminated and still leave a poem, like meter, rhyming (or alliteration or assonance), syllable-counting, emphasis through line breaks, indirect and allusive language, visual structure on the page, etc. (Some of the criteria partially overlap with each other.) Paradise Lost is unrhymed, but written in Iambic Pentameter, for example, and is unquestionably poetry. There are plenty of pieces of doggerel which are unmindful of meter, but which rhyme, and are commonly called poetry. Any particular characteristic is not strictly necessary to make a piece a poem.

Your question might be rephrased, then, "How many or which poetic criteria can be eliminated (or must remain) in order for a written piece to be a poem?"

If I may frame-challenge, I don't think there is a clear boundary or an obvious minimum. Just as much of music will be universally called music (whether it is liked or disliked by an person remarking on it), much poetry will be near-universally recognizable as poetry. But as the sound a wind-chime makes may or may not be strictly recognized as music (vs "musical"), the closer you get to a boundary of being a poem, the more often people will disagree about whether you've already crossed the boundary.


This may sound wishy-washy but it comes from having my own understanding of poetry continue to grow over the years. I think if the writer intends what they are writing to be a poem, and lacking any strong evidence that it is something else (like a script), then it can probably be considered a poem. There are prose poems and many styles (including ones labeled "experimental") that will ignore one or more or possibly many of the aspects we normally think of (meter, rhyme, etc).

What this does not address is whether or not it is an effective poem (I prefer "effective" rather than "good" or "bad"). One problem that can happen with some poems that ignore a lot of those structures is that the structure (or lack) may be distracting. Line breaks and other things are clues to the reader. Intent has a lot to do with it. Does whatever you are doing on the page support the effect you are trying to have or the point you are trying to communicate? Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

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