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What is poetry?
What is poetry?

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10 Hold that space!

The caesura is the stress which falls at a moment of silence. It’s the equivalent of a musical rest and is usually delineated by punctuation. Composers and poets recognise the importance of the space between notes.

The house that Jack or Jill might build

We know that poems

are made of lines

and lines need line-


which we’ve already discussed.

These lines can, in turn, then be grouped together or divided in creative


into equal

or unequal sections

- poetic paragraphs called stanzas or verses …

These lines

may contain rhymes

and each word has a rhythm …

with stresses, no stresses …

constructed in a pattern we call metre

which keeps on coming back again … keeps on coming back again

and in-between, and after and before …


Activity 23

Now read how ‘Silence’ can speak, in Mahmood Jamal’s poem of that name.

Silence [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

You will finish this course with a poem about writing. In this poem, a driving instructor’s teaching strategy involves likening his student’s profession to the art of learning to drive. The humour comes partly from the arbitrariness of his comparison.


‘Switch off the engine and secure the car.’

He slots his pen across his clipboard

and makes a little cathedral of his fingers

as though I were helping him with his enquiries.

‘Tell me, Michael, what’s your line of work?’

I tell him the truth. Why not? I’ve failed anyway.

‘Driving and writing have a lot in common,’

he parleys, and we sit there, the two of us

blinking into the average braking distance

for 30 mph, wondering what he means.

I want to help but it’s his turn to talk.

When my turn comes he’ll probably look at me

instead of his hand, stalled now in mid-gesture

like a milkfloat halfway across a junction.

Look at him. What if I’d said butcher?

At last ‘It’s all a matter of giving – proper – signals’

is the best he can do. But then he astonishes me.

‘I’m going to approve your licence,

but I don’t care much for your … ‘ Quick glance.

‘interpretation of the Highway Code.’

(Michael Donaghy)

To carry on with our driving instructor’s comparison, don’t let the rhymes or formal elements drive the poem. You must be in the driving seat.