The short answer is yes. Poetry can absolutely be nonfiction. In fact, many poets have used their craft to capture real-life experiences, events, and emotions in their work.
One example of this is memoir poetry. Memoir poetry focuses on personal experiences of the writer and can range from traumatic events to moments of joy and celebration. The poet may use devices like imagery, metaphor, and symbolism to convey their story in a creative way.
Another way that poetry can be nonfiction is through the use of historical or factual subject matter. Poets may research a specific event or person and then use poetic language to explore the topic in a meaningful way.
For example, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric uses poetry to explore race relations in America through real-life incidents and experiences.
Even more traditional forms of poetry such as haiku or sonnets can be used to convey real-world experiences or emotions. A haiku about a sunset or a sonnet dedicated to a loved one are both examples of how nonfiction elements can be incorporated into these classic forms.
While it may seem paradoxical that such an artistic medium could also convey truthfulness about life experiences, it all comes down to the approach taken by the poet. Just because poetry uses creative language does not mean that it cannot accurately represent reality.
In fact, by employing poetic tools like metaphor and imagery, poets often have greater freedom than traditional journalists or prose writers in conveying complex emotional states or abstract ideas.
In conclusion, poetry can most definitely be nonfiction. By using creative language and structure within their work poets are able to capture real-world truths with more depth than traditional prose-writing ever could. So next time you’re reading some verse keep an eye out for the nonfiction elements that may be buried within.