Yes, I know. National Poetry Month is over and you’ve had all of my terrible poetry you can handle. That’s fair. But this isn’t about my poetry, nor will I subject you to any more of it (at least not until next April). This is about poetry in general and how I think that for the general public, it doesn’t get a fair evaluation.
Obviously, there’s no harm if you don’t like poetry. It’s just that I don’t think people get a chance to like poetry.
Think about it. When are most people introduced to poetry? In school. Grade school, junior high, high school. And in that context, the agenda behind the introduction is to teach us the different kinds of poems and the various kinds of poetic devices, and the poetry we consume in the classroom is all for the purpose of learning these things. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with learning the parts of the body that you’re looking at. Even if you never use that knowledge beyond the classroom, you’re still developing critical thinking skills and developing those important neural pathways that you will (hopefully) use later.
But at no point are you taught to experience and enjoy poetry (I could make this same argument about literature and reading for enjoyment). Instead, you’re trying to parse the implied meanings of a poet whose been dead for a hundred years for a grade. You’re not asked to understand what that poem means to you or explain how it makes you feel or how you experience. Yes, I’m coming from a very “I don’t know art, but I know what I like” kind of place.
Here’s kind of what I mean.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my honors English class was studying poetry and one of our assignments was to submit a poem to a poetry/art contest. So this was for a grade as well as for glory. The contest had a theme, I can’t remember exactly what it was. Something about robots taking people’s jobs or some such shit. Anyway, when I submitted the first draft of my poem, my teacher returned it with the critique that it didn’t have enough poetic devices.
Even as a 15 year old know-nothing, I thought to myself, “That’s not how poetry works.” Emily Dickinson never looked at one of her poems and said, “Needs more devices” like she was spiking a punch. And I’m not comparing myself to Emily Dickinson at all. It’s well established that she was brilliant and I’m terrible. I’m just saying that I don’t think that’s the thought process behind crafting a poem. I would think there’s more focus of the utilization of the poetic devices to help convey the meaning and feeling of the poem, not the number of devices used. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe that’s why the greats are so great. They were carefully measuring the poetic devices that they put into their poems.
In my case, I capitalized the last line of the poem to satisfy my teacher’s poetic devices requirement and ended up winning second in both county and state.
Was it that capitalized line that pushed me onto the victory podium? Did the judges look at my poem and count the number of devices and decided I’d inserted a sufficient number of them to be worthy of a prize? I have no idea and I’ll never know. I don’t think I’ve capitalized an entire line in a poem since then, though. Maybe that’s why I’ve never won anything else.
I’ve always liked writing poetry even if I’m not very good at it and don’t use enough devices, but I wasn’t always fond of reading it. I liked some of it, but it seemed like the poetry I was supposed to read and like (much like the literature I was supposed to read and like) wasn’t my cup of tea and I struggled to get into it. I never gave up on reading it, but it took me a long time to finally find my groove. As it turns out, I like free verse best. It speaks to me, as it were. It also seems that I like current poets rather than poets of the past. José Olivarez, Britteney Black Rose Kapri, E’Mon Lauren, Aja Monet, and Kevin Coval are a few of the poets I’ve read recently and I dug their work.
Did I notice their use of poetic devices? Well, as a terrible poem writer always looking to learn how to be less terrible, yeah. I made note of things that they did that caught my attention. But mostly I read for the experience. Because for me, poetry is an experience. Is it supposed to be? I don’t know. That’s just how I prefer to process it. I just absorb the piece, the feeling, the emotion, the meaning and message, intentional and interpreted. I find the most enjoyment in poetry by letting the poem speak for itself.
What I’m saying is that I wasn’t ruined by learning the ins and outs of poetry, but I had to learn for myself how to enjoy it. I was never given that option when I was reading and writing for a grade. I guess you can’t score a good time. Which is a damn shame. Reading for enjoyment is a life skill.
And if after reading all of this you think you still wouldn’t or don’t like poetry, read Shel Silverstein.
If you still don’t like poetry after Where the Sidewalk Ends or A Light in the Attic, then yeah, you don’t like poetry.