What a task: to attempt to condense poetry as a skill, an area of study and a creative outlet in a couple hundred words. Indeed, the art of poetry is all three of these things, and more.
Poetry is a writing skill like any other you practice, but the attention to detail that’s required sets it apart. This attention is microscopic. Synonyms don’t exist; no word means the same thing as another word. No word means exactly what you think it means. Each kind of punctuation is like a different kind of kitchen knife: they all cut up your phrases and sentences, but you have to discern whether you need to pare your phrase or hack your sentence. Even capitalization is its own kind of punctuation, its own tool of dividing words up. You’ve got to be near-obsessive about your words and punctuation. And, hardest of all, your poem’s message can’t alienate your reader. This seems impossible. But the best way of avoiding this, I’ve found, is to assume nothing about your reader other than that they’re reading and that they’re human. The best poetry sings to one impression of a tiny sub-aspect of human universality.
Poetry is an area of study too. If you put all of poetry together, you’d have for yourself a comprehensive history of ideas. No poem is comprehensive itself, but poetry is. If you study any culture from any place or any period of time, you’ll find poems. Humans have always told stories, always talked about what they’re feeling and seeing, always sung about their heroes. All that is poetry, and you’ll find it. And deducing clues about the poet’s work by examining words, meter, rhyme, punctuation (if any are present) is the thrilling work of the reader. Studying poetry is almost anthropological.
Lastly, poetry is a creative outlet. Not all of your poetry is fit for publication, but that’s not the greatest goal of poetry. It’s good and healthy to do on your own, alone in your room with a pen and paper. Playing with words is fun, and so is stretching your brain in a different direction with them. Reading poetry is creative too; it’s not just for consumption, it’s also for curious questioning and study. Stay wondering — and I hope you come away a little more energized to read or write one more poem.