How Poetry Works

Poetry in the 20th Century and Today

By the beginning of the 20th century, poetry had come a long way. Some poets loved using prescribed structures and forms, while others rejected these ideas completely and tried to do their own thing.

The early 20th century saw a lot of push against formal structure and style. The modernist movement of the early 1900s was in a way fighting back against the idea that poetry should be elegant and beautiful. Poems became shorter and more concise -- a much simpler, less ornate style was preferred. Some famous modernist poets include W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost and W.H. Auden.


After about 1945, the postmodern movement brought more abstract and experimental styles to poetry. Text could be fragmented and sometimes very obscure. From the postmodern movement came the beat poets, such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who rebelled against mainstream society in their themes and styles. From the beat movement emerged a style known as spoken word, which is a type of poetry that is both performed and makes some kind of a statement (typically something political).

Today, you can find poets and poetry of all sorts. While poetry may not be as much a part of the mainstream as it had been in previous generations, it's certainly not a lost art form if you know where to look. Many bars, cafés and schools still host poetry readings where experienced or novice poets can share their work with others.

One great way to hear modern poets today is to attend a poetry slam, which is a competition where poets battle against one another and are judged on their poem performances. Some poetry slams use an elimination system and a series of elimination rounds through which poets must progress.

Some people also look at music as a form of poetry. Musicians like Bob Dylan are well known for the poetic qualities of the lyrics they write. Rap music also is known to follow many of the structures, meters and rhyme schemes that are associated with poetry.

For more information about types of poetry, the history of poetry and the influence of poetry today, peruse the links below.

Poetry FAQ

How do you define poetry?
Poetry is a style of writing that's more artistic in nature. Poetry is meant to evoke something in its readers, like an emotional response or an experience.
Who is the most famous poet of all time?
There are many famous poets, but many people consider William Shakespeare to be one of the greatest poets of all time.
What are the three types of poetry?
The three most common types of poetry are narrative, dramatic, and lyrical.
What kind of poem has 10 lines?
A poem with 10 lines is called a decastich.
What's the shortest poem?
The Guinness Book of Records states that the world's shortest poem is a one-letter poem by Aram Saroyan ("m").

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More Great Links


  • Adams, Stephen. "Poetic Designs: An Introduction to Meter, Verse Forms, and Figures of Speech." Broadview Press. 1997.
  • Beye, Charles Rowan. "Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil : with a chapter on the Gilgamesh poem." Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. 2006.
  • Ciuraru, Carmela. "Beat Poets." Knopf. 2002.
  • DiYanni, Robert. "Glossary of Poetic Terms." McGraw-Hill. (April 15, 2010).
  • Drury, John. "The Poetry Dictionary, Second Edition." FW Publications. 2006.
  • Goody, Jack. "The Interface Between the Written and the Oral." University of Cambridge. 1993.
  • Magnus, Maurice. "Introduction to Poetry." Biblio Bazaar. 2008.
  • Meyer, Michael. "The Bedford Introduction to Literature." Bedford/St. Martin's. 2005.
  • Myers, Jack Elliot and Don C. Wukasch. "Dictionary of Poetic Terms." University of North Texas Press. 2003.
  • "Poetry" (2010). Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. (April 16, 2010)
  • Poetry Foundation. "Glossary Terms." (April 15, 2010).
  • Smith, Marc Kelly and Joe Kraynak. "Take the Mic: The Art of Performance Poetry, Slam, and the Spoken Word." Sourcebooks MediaFusion. 2009.
  • Strachan, John and Richard Terry. "Poetry: An Introduction." New York University Press. 2000