One Defining Moment Deserves Another


Thinking back to school daze, you’d probably agree that one of the original sins of “education” is a teacher forcing students to copy definitions out of a dictionary. They wrote the Geneva Conventions about stuff like that, no?

But definition is, in its humble way, sophisticated stuff. No, not Merriam’s or Webster’s. Yours.

Redefining, or defining something in your own way. I put it right up there with metaphor, a type of redefinition itself. But, if you think about it, taking a list of abstracts and then redefining them with concrete images is a great poetry-writing warm-up, like push-ups at 6 a.m. And, like any warm-up, it leads to greater feats and bigger accomplishments, in this case a poem based on definition.

We all know that an extended metaphor is one that finds multiple ways that one thing is like something else. A successful definition poem — I mean, uber successful — would be one that does the same, and although I cannot find one that extends like that right now, I did stumble across a simple definition poem by way of illustration. Cue the late David Budbill of Vermont:

The Sound of Summer

David Budbill

The screened door slamming tells me it is summer.

There are other sounds only in the summer, too.
The hummingbirds moving from
feeder to feeder on the porch, chickadee’s two-note
song we hear early on summer mornings, ravens
croaking back to their aeries on the ledges
every summer evening.

There are other birds too, visitors we hear only
in the summertime, but it’s the screened door slamming
that is the definition of summer for me.


Simply put, this poem takes an abstract (summer) and redefines it in concrete terms (the screened door slamming). Summer to you might be something quite different. Summer to you, in fact, might be ten different concrete sorts of familiar imagery, which is the point. Definition poems are a great “in,” especially if you, unlike me, are a believer in writer’s block.

Maybe, if your well is dry and you’d like to write the first draft of a poem today, the “Merriam and Webster Way,” as I don’t call it (you’re welcome), is your “in.” For me, definition poems (concrete) are one definition of “creativity” (abstract).

Don’t believe me? Go ahead and check under “C.”