That has been hurting her

(Williams, 1968:63)

The art of this poem (as in the passage from Macbeth) is its organisation. It could have moved straight from the subject of the sentence ('A big young bareheaded woman') to the rest of the main clause ('pulls out the paper insole/to find the nail'), but the intervening phrases delay the verb and all the information it supplies. Why? The poem needs to place this information at the point where it will surprise us. The structure prolongs our attention in the same way and for the same length of time as the poet's attention is prolonged by what he is seeing. He becomes absorbed, temporarily, in someone else's absorption. We witness a sudden act of concentration: the woman's, and the poet's, and even though the event described might happen any day anywhere, something we might not normally notice has been brought close to our attention and valued.

A common question is how to define the way poetry differs from prose, especially when faced with a piece like the one above. Its language seems too ordinary to be in a poem, and the subject itself far too commonplace for the elevated treatment we expect. But really the word 'poem' implies a space, and as with the space on a theatre stage, what you put into it can be just what you decide you will put into it. One way of filling that space is to think of a poem as a form of drama where words in conjunction create settings, generate voices, enact moments of tension, crisis and possible illumination. Prose fiction and memoir build up worlds where characters and ideas circulate, conflicts develop and may be resolved. Stage plays use music, lighting, the physical stage space. The difference is that, in comparison with other genres, poems produce such effects with unusual swiftness. Words have to do what technicians, designers, musicians and actors accomplish, and this can be done only because language, both spoken and written, possesses an amazing versatility. Poets know this and can write in a way that moves us, even though the poem's space amounts to less than half of a book page. Here are the first two lines of Ted Hughes's short poem 'Full Moon and Little Frieda':

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