When someone writes poetry that's almost like plain English sentences, what may we call that?

Consider this, for example. This is an example of that plain, stated as it is, poetry (completely made up):

I did this.
Then I did that
Life is great
Then I wore my pants
But life is also a struggle

and so on...

It gets tiresome after a while.

As against that, consider the more romantic prose. This is, as it should be, poetic.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

From: http://sathyaish.net/poetry/SayNotTheStruggleNaughtAvaileth.aspx

  • 1
    Hm, tiresome is a matter of personal preference. If it's really tiresome, it might not be poetry at all. But that, too, would be personal preference.
    – JAM
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 4:39
  • 9
    Prosaic, unimaginative, banal, blah*, boring, colorless, common, commonplace, dead*, diddly, drab, dry, dull, everyday, flat*, garden-variety, hackneyed, ho-hum, humdrum*, lackluster, lifeless, literal, lowly, lusterless, mundane, ordinary, pabulum, pedestrian, plebeian, routine, square, stale, tame, tedious, trite, unexceptional, uninspiring, vanilla, vapid
    – user21497
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 4:45
  • 1
    Poetry is art. Art is beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Judgments are a dime a dozen. What's "good" is what I like. Get over yourself, dude.
    – user21497
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 4:47
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    What's wrong with @BillFranke's Prosaic?
    – Jim
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 5:13
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    1. 'Kitchen-sink' has entered the dictionaries as a free modifier (rather than being confined to collocations such as kitchen-sink drama) - but whether it is usable predicatively, I have not been able to determine. 2. I think banal has more of a negative flavour than prosaic - prose can be fine, banality not so. 3. I agree with Kris's judgement here. It's not great prose either. Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 11:07

5 Answers 5


As noted in comments, prosaic may work. Its senses include
• Pertaining to or having the characteristics of prose
• (of writing or speaking) Straightforward; matter-of-fact; lacking the feeling or elegance of poetry
• (usually of writing or speaking but also figurative) Overly plain or simple, to the point of being boring; humdrum

In the comments, and perhaps in the question, the third sense has been emphasized. But the first sense applies more properly and more widely. Even if poetry is written in “almost like plain English sentences”, it need not be at all unimaginative, banal, blah, boring, colorless, common, commonplace, dead, drab, dry, dull, everyday, flat, garden-variety, hackneyed, ho-hum, humdrum, lackluster, lifeless, literal, lowly, lusterless, mundane, ordinary, pablum, pabulum, pedestrian, plebeian, routine, square, stale, tame, tedious, trite, unexceptional, uninspiring, vanilla, or vapid. For example, free verse is a recognized poetic form; although at first glance much of it may look much like ordinary prose, some of it is readable poetry.

  • Thank you for the wonderful suggestions and your learned company.
    – Sathyaish
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 10:25

Many lines of T S Eliot’s poetry, if taken in isolation, are banal: ‘I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled’, ‘I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face, / It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said’, ‘Home is where one starts from’. They gain their force from the context in which they are used. However, when line after line is like your made-up example, there’s no other word for it but prose. Being set out in a peculiar way on the page doesn't change that.

  • Common
  • Matter-of-fact
  • Diurnal (means "daily", not usually used in this context)
  • Lugubrious ("heavy, dull, slow")
  • Thank you for the wonderful suggestions. I especially love the sound of the last two words you listed and have taken special attention towards them. They go into my list of active writing vocabulary. As for the best answer so far, I believe yours and the one I have marked are on a tie. I had to choose one, so I chose the other.
    – Sathyaish
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 10:26

The first word that sprang to my mind after reading your “tiresome” example was choppy.

One website mentions that purposeful variety in writing – in terms of length, grammatical constructs, and rhythm – is beneficial. It goes on to explain:

Sophisticated writers vary sentence patterns — rhythm and length — with purpose. Writers should take care to avoid choppy sentence formations. [emphasis added]

One dictionary defines choppy as:

choppy (adj.) 1. marked by abrupt transitions : choppy prose 2. rough with small waves

  • Though I don't really think that that's the word I was looking for in this case, I do appreciate the website you shared. I think that's an immensely useful resource to any writer. So, thanks a great deal. I don't quite like the word choppy as much, in the same vein as I dislike many other Americanisms. They offer very little for the imagination.
    – Sathyaish
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 11:24
  • Ah, but I see now that my usage of the word 'tiresome' triggered your response. In that context, it is totally appropriate. Thanks many.
    – Sathyaish
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 11:27
  • You are correct, I keyed off of your word "tiresome", and your provided example that that word alluded to. Not all such poetry is tiresome or choppy, though; for example, I don't mind Leo Dangel's His Elderly Father as a Young Man so much – even if he is an unimaginative American ;^)
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 12:02
  • That's a nice little poem. Thanks for sharing. I apologize if my comment came across as being racist. I didn't intend it to be. I enjoy drinking from all waters. I just think that a certain genre of contemporary speech, esp. one that draws on contemporary American slang, is detrimental to the thinking mind. For instance, Americanisms such as 'shoot the breeze', 'brew a pop' and 'take a stab at it,' corrupt the language and leave little aid for the imagination when they're used as a generalization, esp. when the thing to be taken a stab at isn't stab-worthy but a task at hand.
    – Sathyaish
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 12:57
  • @Sathyaish: No need to apologize; I didn't find your comment offensive or racist (hence the winking emoticon). That said, thanks for elaborating, I think I now have a better understanding of what you were getting at (or should I say, "alluding to"?).
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 15:45

"Terse," "clipped," are good adjectives. I might describe the first set as being "reportage," rather than poetry.

Also, if you're looking for yet another means of classifying these sentences, J.L. Austin would have us call them "constantative," rather than "performative," because they describe states rather than perform actions. A consequence of that writing could be the sort of stylistic tendencies that you observe.

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