Defining Poetry: Lawrence Raab’s “The Great Poem”

Lawrence Raab’s 2005 poem entitled “The Great Poem” proposes that “the great poem” is something that is “always possible” for the poet to achieve, even though the speaker of Raab’s poem admits “[w]hat he is writing now is not / the great poem.”

The entire poem raises some useful questions for those of us who find ourselves studying contemporary poetry:


  • Why would a poet write a poem entitled “The Great Poem” and then undercut the meaning of that title in the lines of the poem?
  • Review your preliminary definition of poetry (from the student survey). In what ways does Raab’s poem reflect your definition and in what ways does it stray from your definition?
  • Who is Keats? Can you figure out what Raab is seeking to do in the first stanza by citing Keats?
  • Locate a word, phrase, or line from Raab’s poem that has made, to some extent, an impression on you.
  • Is it possible that Raab’s poem, once we have read through it once or twice, achieves the status that the title promises? That it becomes a great poem?

This marks our first opportunity to do some thinking about contemporary poetry — with “contemporary,” in our case, referring to the poetry of your era, your lifetime — to see if our prior experiences with poetry have prepared us for what we will be encountering in this course.


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