A poem is a fictional, verbally inventive moral statement in which it is the author, rather than the printer or word processor, who decides where the lines should end. This dreary-sounding definition, unpoetic to a fault, may well turn out to be the best we can do.
As Eagleton points out in the above definition, it is rather difficult to write about poetry without getting poetic about it. How can we define that which we involuntarily absorb? After all, good poems–ones that move us–have a tendency to leap into orbit unexpectedly, destined to circle around our consciousness and seep through into our speech and our writing–probably forever. (See? Difficult.) Like it or not, poetry is an adhesive art form. When it’s working for us, it just seems to somehow “stick”. Which is either incredibly cool or incredibly annoying, depending on how you feel about poetry.
As for me, I will never forget the “blueblack cold” in Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”. That line is probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read, and I might never fully understand why. I still have certain lines from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” committed to memory, and sometimes, when I’m alone, I let them slither out into effortless music. Lately I can’t stop watching Catalina Ferro perform her poem “Anxiety Group.” I love its cleverness and its honesty. And the way she performs it.
Write (a poem) about poetry. Start by making a list of your favorite poems, poems you remember, poems you connected to, even ones you haven’t connected to at all. Then, use Terry Eagleton’s definition as a starting point and then let your poem about poetry take whatever shape it may. It can look as much or as little like “traditional” poetry as you wish. After all, we’re just getting warmed up! Use one specific poem as a jumping off point if you get stuck.