Defining Poetry

Grades 11-12 | Argumentative | Source-Based
Source Lexile®: NP (Non-Prose) | Learning Standards




Read the following quotes that attempt to define poetry, constructed by poets Emily Dickinson and Ntozake Shange.


“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know. Is there any other way?” - Emily Dickinson


“quite simply a poem shd fill you up with something/ cd make you swoon, stop you in yr tracks, change yr mind, or make it up, a poem shd happen to you like cold water or a kiss.” - Ntozake Shange


Which perception of poetry best defines poetry’s impact on readers? Write an argument in which you make a claim about whether Dickinson or Shange best captures the impact that poetry can and/or should have on readers. Use evidence from the following to support your argument:

  • the included quotes
  • your own experiences as a reader
  • words, phrases, or lines from other poems that exemplify the intended impact.


From The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson: By Her Niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, 1924.

“Self-Interview” quoted by Alicia Ostriker in “American Poetry, Now Shaped by Women,” New York Times Book Review (March 9, 1986)