What Is Poetry

(a twelve-tone poem)

trite yap show

rosy twit heap

posterity haw

a wept history

it’s yawp rot, eh

a wisher potty

a power shitty

a whitey sport


poetry is what

whips yo tater

pets it awry, oh

oh, twisty pear

two hearts yip

it’s paw theory


hi! try wet soap


ear whist typo

ape with story

or what ye spit

or what yeps it


throaty wipes

or what I types


Dive in
  1. This poem is an anagram: it uses the same exact letters for each line, re-arranging them to make different words and phrases. It’s amazing how many different combinations she came up with! Which are the most surprising to you? Are there other words you can see in the letters?
  2. Some of Holbrook’s discoveries seem to make fun of poetry itself. Others are downright silly. What do you think about a poem that seems to joke about what poetry can (and should) do? Is it disrespectful?
  3. Each line of this poem must be a very specific length, using all the letters (and ONLY the letters) from the phrase “What is poetry.” In some ways, then, the poem reads like a list of possible anagrams. But it’s not just a random list. Holbrook makes creative decisions with her stanzas. There’s a one-line stanza in the middle, and a two-lined stanza at the end. And the order of the lines was determined by Holbrook as well. How does her arrangement of the lines – the order, the different stanza breaks, how it ends and begins – shape the way we encounter the poem? How would a different arrangement (alphabetical?) change our reading?
  4. Humour is often best conveyed by timing. When reciting this poem, try varying your speed and tone, to see which elicits the liveliest response. Try it very fast, then very slowly, then some combination.
  5. Writing Activity: Pick a simple phrase or question and see what other combinations of words you can mine from them. Do the lines you make up correspond to each other in some way? See how many you can come up with.

Useful Links


A video of Susan Holbrook discussing her anagram poems at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeZxBGzhdHw


A video of Susan Holbrook doing other hilarious things at the 2017 Trillium Award Finalists Readings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUuE7OGFTB4


Here’s a link to one of many anagram makers on the web: http://ingesanagram.appspot.com. Type in “What is poetry” and see many of the possibilities Holbrook had to choose from. Then type in your name…

Dive In written by
Bibliographical info

Susan Holbrook, “What Is Poetry” from Throaty Wipes. Copyright © 2016 by Susan Holbrook. Reprinted by permission of Coach House Books.

Source: Throaty Wipes (Coach House Books, 2016)

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