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What is Poetry? by Michael Rosen


What is poetry?

The dictionary definition of a poem is 'a literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm'. But if you really want to find out about poetry, get the most out of it and see what it can do for you, you're going to need a better answer than that, ideally from someone who knows their poetic onions.

What is Michael Rosen?

There is no dictionary definition for Michael Rosen, but it could be something like 'a creative, funny poet with a rubbery face and expressive voice, former Children's Laureate and all that'. He is also wise, straight-talking, and possesses an uncommon ability to connect with children, qualities that really come to the fore in a book like this. His easy conversational tone makes learning about poetry seem a doddle, rather than something arduous or shrouded in mystery.

What is a jumbly?

Michael Rosen is not a jumbly, as far as we know. The Jumblies is a nonsense (or 'new sense' as he relabels it) poem by Edward Lear which describes the pioneering journey of a group of peculiar people with green heads and blue hands. Other examples picked out and explored range from the appropriately rhythmic 'From a Railway Carriage' by Robert Louis Stevenson to the extraordinary wordplay of Banjo Paterson's 'Waltzing Matilda'. Each is used to illustrate a different thing that poetry can do, e.g. give an impression, borrow voices, express a belief or culture.

What is a simile?

'I wandered lonely as a cloud' is the classic example of a simile. Wordsworth was quite good at them, although I'm a big fan of Arnold Rimmer and his barrage of simile-based insults from nineties comedy sci-fi series Red Dwarf. 'You're as sharp as a pancake, you are!' Rimmer's work doesn't feature here for some reason, but there are some other well-chosen examples of personification, allusion, etc. Then there's a section at the end of this book to help you get started writing your own poetry, without getting bogged down (metaphor) with technicalities. After a very enjoyable read you'll be free to explore the poetic universe, a bold explorer making new sense of the world like, for want of a better a simile, a jumbly.

illustration: Jill Calder


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