What is good poetry and what is not good poetry?When I remember Wordsworth's comment in the Preface to the 'Lyrical Ballads' that 'all good poetry is spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings', I...

What is good poetry and what is not good poetry?

When I remember Wordsworth's comment in the Preface to the 'Lyrical Ballads' that 'all good poetry is spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings', I wonder what Wordsworth meant by 'good poetry'. If we use the category, 'good poetry', there must be poetry which is not good. I would like to have your observations on this issue.What are the features of 'not good poetry'.

Expert Answers
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From a literary perspective, good poetry achieves the poet's purpose through the effective use of language and literary technique. The purpose, among many possible, may be to explore a truth, recreate a moment, capture a feeling, paint a scene, ask a question, or develop an irony. A really good poem might do all of those at once. So, poetry can be admired from a technical standpoint, just as one can admire a painting for the painter's mastery of the brushstroke and use of color.

However, a great poem is a good poem that goes one step further. It touches something in us at some level below conscious thought, and it connects us for a moment to the rest of humanity. When we find ourselves in someone else's poem, we are no longer isolated by our own feelings and experiences. A great poem, I think, is an experience of the soul.

And then there's the verse, not to be confused with a poem. Here's my favorite verse, by Ogden Nash, I believe.

The problem with a kitten is that

Eventually it becomes a cat.

But perhaps I underestimate Ogden's work. This might be a profound universal insight, after all!

timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I like Coleridge's best words in the best order.  In my experience, when a poet says something in a way that I might never have through of, in a way that makes the experience the poet is describing more real to me than it has ever been, then I know I'm reading "good" poetry.  This is very clear to me in the plays of Shakespeare.  When I read the soliquies of Hamlet, for instance, the experiences he speaks of are presented in a way that makes them more "real" to me, more complex, than they might be in "normal" language.  His meditation on suicide, "to be or not to be," is an excellent example of this.  If you want to see how it works, get a copy of the play that shows a "translation" into modern English and see how lame.  Somehow Shakespeare has found the best words and put them in the best order.  Mark Twain's famous remark, which I'll have to paraphrase, sheds light on this.  He says that the difference between the nearly perfect word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug.

"Not good" poetry doesn't do any of this.

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I love poetry that provides powerful imagery. The English Romantics were masters of figurative language. Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge were among my favorite to read when I was in college and still are.

Shakespeare is, in my opinion, the master of English poetry. To take the universal themes he treats, and to do them in iambic pentameter, demonstrates unparallelled mastery of the language.

"Not good poetry" is pretentious and labored.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Good poetry is musical and flows from the tongue.  It sticks with you and makes you re-read it.  It knocks you in the head and you react with an emotional response.  You just know it when you read it that it's good. 

krishna-agrawala | Student

I believe that difference between good and bad poetry is also a matter of personal likes and dislikes. Just as all people do not like the same kind of food, not all people like the same kind of poetry.

At the most we can say that a good poetry is the poetry which is or will be liked and enjoyed by many people.

Coming to the question of good versus bad poetry, I do not consider that bad poetry is exact opposite of good poetry. A poetry may be bad simply because of the subject of the poetry, although it may be excellent in terms of craft of the poetry such as lyrical quality, imagery, etc.

brucehall123 | Student

A poetry is mostly one of the experiences experienced by the poet and it is written in such a way that less words and more understanding a story is told in the best rythm.


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maloo | Student

I think poetry is all about putting one's thoughts in such a way that the reader gets emotionaly carried away and imagines or recollects some retrospects in life. Poetry cannot be considered as good or bad . It is just what appeals the reader which makes the poetry popular. Anyhow poets have the liscence to commit mistakes although the language should be flowery and acceptable to the reader.


kc4u | Student

Happy to go through all the posts made so far..........

Is 'not good' poetry 'bad' poetry?

Would you agree if I say that the more acceptable divide should be between poetry and that which fails to be poetry?

Does 'verse' stand in opposition to 'poetry'?

Hopefully looking for more feedbacks.......

epollock | Student

Good poetry is great ideas with the best words that someone remembers after reading. If it doesn't make a lasting impression, it hasn't done its job.

I second Coleridge's statement: "The best words in the best order."