In 1984, African American poet Audre Lorde described poetry as “the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change… the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought” ([1984] 2007, 37). Lorde’s twentieth-century version of poets giving “name to the nameless” reverberates with exactly what poets from classical times onward have tried to express about their craft. The Ancient Greek word poesis, from which our modern word poetry is derived, means “the activity in which a person brings something into being that did not exist before” (Polkinghome 2004, 115). Variations on poesis survive in modern Spanish as poesia, in French as poesie, and in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish as poesi. In Old English, however, the words for poetrysangcraeft (art of the song) and léoðweorc (work of the lay)—emphasized the musicality of verse. The concepts of both music and naming the nameless are central to the OED’s definition of poetry as “the expression or embodiment of beautiful or elevated thought, imagination, or feeling, in language adapted to stir the imagination and emotions… such language containing a rhythmical element and having usually a metrical form.” The music of verse...

This essay may be found on page 148 of the printed volume.

Works Cited
Permanent Link to this Essay