How Poems Move #7

Tuesday, April 16, 2013









One useful very general critical source on literature in general, is the online edition of M. H. Abrams’s venerable Glossary of Literary Terms. In order to have a bigger frame in which to see the poetry that we ourselves write, we need to understand what we’re doing in the context of all other poetry, or at least in the smaller context of the poetry that lies behind our own efforts, even if we are not yet aware of it all. And in literary criticism and what used to be called (but no longer) “philosophy of art” or even “philosophy of literature,” a number of different aesthetic stances or theories have been conceived by those who have thought generally about literature, from classical antiquity to the present.  

For example, the four types of criticism that M. H. Abrams has discerned in the whole history of (western) thinking about literature: mimetic theories of poetry, which look at the relationship between the poem and the world; pragmatic theories, regarding the relationship between the poem and the audience; expressive theories, on the relationship between the poem and the poet; and objective theories, which consider the poem mostly as an object to be studied closely for its intrinsic qualities. Read more. 

And browse or search the whole glossary at:

Within these four categories, or related to them, there are different ways of reading poetry—linguistically, formally, historically, sociologically, philosophically, etc. The value of learning about these four types of criticism is that it can make us more aware of artistic opportunities in our own poems, and it reveals to us that what people read poems for, what they are in search of in poems, can be very different.  

-Reginald Gibbons