What's a Good Poem?

Random response:

A poem is good when it shows me something about the world around me that I haven’t seen. This might be because I didn’t think hard enough about it before, or because I couldn’t see it based on my limited experience or point of view. A poem is Very Good when it also shows me what I can’t see about the world.

— Jamie-Lee Josselyn

What do you think?

Share your thoughts here!

The best poems are those that know what they want to do and waste no time doing it.
Isaura Ren
poet, editor
A good poem gives before it is. Its status as a gift both precedes and exceeds its existence.
Will Brewbaker
Poet, Graduate Student
A good poem is literally awesome, providing a feeling of expansion (of what language can and must do). A good poem plays with everything it has, even if all it has is a candy wrapper and the word "trombone." I believe a good poem.
Jen Frantz
Poet
A poem is good when it paints a clear picture of its essence, when it speaks to your innermost self, and when it evokes emotions that remain inside you even long after you’ve read it.
Carla
Stage Manager
Something that elicits feelings in someone, similar to a good quote.
Michael Silberling
Engineer
For me, a "good poem" has great rhythm, meaning, and images. I want to be able to "get it" while still having some lovely poetic mystery. For me, a poem feels like a poem when messed around with standard writing forms to open up possibilities for the reader, especially in terms of experience of the poem or meaning. I think there are likely many great poems I don't "get" and that's okay, but in terms of a "good poem" meaning a poem that I enjoy and take to heart, I want to understand it while also enjoying how it plays with my understanding, subverts my expectations, and does something different than I might encounter in prose.
Izzy Lopez
Writer
It makes you go “damn” (no, seriously, that’s the best way I can describe it).
Sam Rizer
Person
me not writing it
Kaitlin Moore
Writer
A surprise at the end. In a sonnet, it's called the "volta" or "turn," where the poet looks at the question from a new angle. Sometimes the best surprise is a question that pops seemingly out of nowhere, like the last line of Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day": "what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?"
Tucker Lieberman
Author of Painting Dragons, Bad Fire, and Ten Past Noon
A poem is good when you find a piece of yourself in it, or when it perfectly describes that experience or feeling you have never been able to name before, or when it makes you look at the world with newer, brighter eyes.
Isabella P.
Writer
The best poems reflect our union with the Creator God, in that God, an Aesthete, produced a creation that generates its own coherent logic but remains capable of transcendence—miracles, salvation. Poems that are more than technically excellent, that have real spiritual weight and urgency, move toward the anagogical or epiphanic, often apocalyptic, a rushing-upward, a threshold at which you cross into splendor and awe, or even annihilation itself. These poems practically seem to defy their own terms, but it is because, in the setup of their terms, you can see a faith-quotient, meaning that built into their rationale is an acknowledgement that some things cannot be contained by the terms of their reasoning, one thing that doesn't make sense without some type of senseless redemption (and redemption is senseless, in that way: based on who we are and how we live, none of us should be salvageable). To be clear, a poem need not have God or faith as its subject matter for this to be true; and if you are not a person of Christian faith then you can replace these notions about God with secular notions of truth, ontology, metaphysics, etc. But the best poems are objects that make, as in create, sense, and contend in unwavering voice with the truth, which requires that something universal and simple be transposed into very particular terms that could only ever arrive where they do.
Clare Hogan
Lapsed poet, devout Catholic, and rogue theological scholar
I find a poem to be good when it reaches me on some emotional level, leaving me with a strong feeling: joyous, calm, heard, frustrated. A good poem has expansiveness, packing in a larger mood or story within a few carefully selected and arranged lines. I love when a poem taps into the Romantic sublime, a sense of small human beauty, or otherwise investigates the ideas of scale or time. A good poem, to me, feels complete, but sticks in your head when you finish the last time, rolling over and over and polishing itself in your brain like some found river stone in a tumbler - crystallizing the more you chew on it.
Natalie Sandstrom
Art Educator, Writer
I think to be good in my eyes, a poem has to a) help me see something I couldn't before, or give a new shape/angle to something I could, which is possible even when the poem isn't expressing a discrete idea or thought, and b) do so in a way that is clever, or compassionate, or has some other quality I admire in people.
Navya Dasari
Law Student, Reader, Sometimes Poet
Something that uses words in the same way a painter uses a paintbrush for a painting. Something that reaches beyond the words to create something words can't. Words are conscious and direct but some things are too subtle and unconscious for that, for poetry is a way of doing both, the words are not words they are emotions, direct but pointing to something beyond direct. Poetry does this perfectly. Or simply put a good poem is beautiful and sublime, for me personally at least.
Natalie Christine Hensley
Philosopher
A poem is good when it shows me something about the world around me that I haven't seen. This might be because I didn't think hard enough about it before, or because I couldn't see it based on my limited experience or point of view. A poem is Very Good when it also shows me what I can't see about the world.
Jamie-Lee Josselyn
Writer, Email Answerer
It uses language or imagery in unexpected ways, it surprises me, it feels like turning familiar something over and seeing something new underneath every time, I think a good poem is like the rereading a favorite book and realizing there were all these edges and elements you didn’t remember being there and it’s like !! Like you can keep turning it over and looking at it and continues to surprise you. So yeah, I feel like a good poem feels like an unexpected discovery or a surprising flavor. I especially like my friends’ poetry because it’s basically having a surprising or unexpected conversation with someone I care about.
Alexa Derman
Playwright, MFA Candidate
For the reader, their opinion of it. Universally, no such thing, in my opinion! When I write, I wanna get as close to the heart of my poem as possible, so when it isn't needlessly obscuring itself from itself and I learn something from it, that's when I begin to think of it as (maybe) "good." I think larger understandings of specific poems as "good" can come from a particular poem's (or author's) proximity to the "canon," social capital or clout and hundreds of other things, but none of those value judgments have to become/influence your own!
Paulina Ukrainets
Poet, Translator
Poetry as a genre seems to be pretty subjective, so if a person enjoys a poem and deems it as good, then it is good to them. That same poem might not be good through another person's lens, and that's ok. I don't think a poem can be objectively 'good'. Sure, if there are rules, like in writing a haiku, and the author uses the wrong amount of syllables, could it then be considered a bad haiku, but a bad poem overall? Possibly not. I think if a poem is widely considered as 'good', then perhaps it is highly relatable, easy to read, or otherwise appeasing to a mass audience. It could be emotional, or funny, or straightforward. Maybe it's challenging in a way that's fun to figure out, but that is all up to the person reading it and what they value in a piece of writing that can be whatever it wants to be. Overall, I guess what makes a poem good is simply the reader deeming it as such.
Emilia Wrobel
Graphic Designer
It does something to you. It elicits an emotional response in you, a pang of recognition, a flicker of interest, some kind of sorrow or joy. The poems that I've enjoyed the most (that I call "good") have been poems that put words to how I felt, or showed me how the poet felt in a situation beyond my own experience. Sometimes the poet is writing about something you know nothing about, but you enjoy it (and call it "good") just for the beauty of the words, the sheer joy and appreciation you feel when you read them.
Joyce Liu
struggling poet and student
For me a good poem is a private outburst built out of language and surprise. It sings with exactness and leaves an imprint on the mind long after reading.
Noah Falck
Poet, Education Director
A poem is good if the author and/or anyone reading it believes it to be good
Zoe Stoller
Poet, influencer, marketer, all around amazing person
A good poem is written about *something.* It comes from *somewhere,* even if that’s not obvious to the reader.
Farah Sayed
visual artist, creative writer
Good poems make me feel, think, and reflect. Sometimes they are circular. Most of the time they make me cry. Sometimes good poems read aloud, like acting, like stories. Sometimes they are written with cool structures and spacing that I don't understand. None of them use "thou." All of them are personal and natural and not try-too-hard poetry.
Cassandra Jobman
Social Worker
A poem is good when it has intention. Intention in both language and content (ie. not too clunky/passive or irrationally obscure). There are, of course, poems that entirely disregard these rules and remain successful, which is why I love the genre.
Tyler Kellogg
Poet, High School Student
I thought I could get some sort of answer out here, but it seems that I know even less than when I opened this webpage. I'm not sure that I know what a poem is, let alone what makes a poem "good". Here is my best guess: A good poem is fun to say out loud.
Peter Hiebert
Teacher, Engineer, Singer, DM
There are a lot of academic reasons we could talk about: around form and content; impact; context etc, but ultimately the reader decides. For example; the fracture of our times can be reflected through free verse and dislocations of language, and together, we can talk about and understand that, and marvel at it, allegorically & otherwise, but in truth, the poem is successful if one person feels or thinks something about it. If for a moment in time, they are out of themselves, and into the world the artist has created.
Mandana
Writer, Poetry Discussion Leader. Short.
There are many different aspects of a poem that can be good. A poem can have a compelling handle on craft, an impactful message, or a rehabilitative or meditative function that provides its writer with clarity, relief, or support. Any of these are grounds for calling a poem good.
Peter LaBerge
Poet, Editor
A good poem knows itself and what it's doing, even when the poet doesn't. This includes understanding its own unknowability, too. It's like a little imperfect machine.
Talin Tahajian
Poet, Graduate Student
If it makes me connect to a specific, and moving feeling // Makes you go "damn" // Takes your breathe away // Relatable, understandable
Alex Curran-Cardarelli
Writer, Festival Manager
a poem is good if it makes you put it down and walk away and come back and read it again. it is also good if it reminds you of emotions tangential to the normal human emotions. it is also good if you like it. good poetry makes you feel the opposite of looking at "the scream" feels, except when good poetry makes you feel like the "the scream."
Isabel Kim
Writer, Law Student
To me, a good poem takes a second before letting the reader enter. The visual compels the reader to become viewer of space first. I don’t always start with the title…I am free to enter a poem anywhere and run around as long as I like. I enter hoping and trusting that the poet freed something from their deep dark depths. Maybe curiosities or presenting the silliness/seriousness of humanity—or robots (AKA anything STEAM). Collaborative readings always provide more than what my brain and heart initially found within the poem. A good poem does not require memorization, just a few "sticky" moments.
Alonna Shaw
Artist, Poet
A good poem is a celebration of language and an author's attempt at making sense of the world; a short journey, maybe only three or four lines, that has the ability to make you reflect on society or your personal experiences.
Anika
High School Poet in the Making
a good poem is in the ear of the listener, yourself, who is invited to enter this eccentric space of sound and words, and if you want to take a good look around, and especially if you want to return to check it out some more, then its probably at the least a little good
Denny Stern
Percussionist
A good poem is one that invokes me to say, "that's a good poem." It's a good poem when it paints verbal pictures for me, pulls an emotion from me, causes me to think beyond the poem and let out a sigh, a tear, a laugh, a scream or just get MAD because it's truth stepped on my toe. A good poem shakes my rafters or lulls me to gentle solitude and makes me not mind that I was alone when I read it but afterwards, I have to share it.
Runett Ebo
Poet, Author, Editor, Mentor, Inspirational Speaker, Blogger