Poetry, arguably, has a greater range of conceptual meaning than perhaps any other term in English. At the most basic level everyone can recognize it—it is a kind of literature that uses special linguistic devices of organization and expression for aesthetic effect. However, far grander claims have been made for poetry than this—such as Shelley's that the poets "are the unacknowledged legislators of the world," and that poetry is "a higher truth."
In this Very Short Introduction Bernard O'Donoghue provides a fascinating look at the many different forms of writing which have been called "poetry"—from the Greeks to the present day. As well as questioning what poetry is, he asks what poetry is for, and considers contemporary debates on its value. Is there a universality to poetry? And does it have a duty of public utility and responsibility?