I don’t have stats on this, but I’m willing to bet that the farther you get from high school, the less likely you are to read much poetry. For one, you no longer have an English teacher forcing you to recognize the difference between iambic pentameter and free verse. For two, as you get farther into your twenties you’re probably not going to get as many scribbled love poems or copy and pasted song lyrics declaring undying devotion. It’s just the way things go. And I think that’s ok. There’s a lot to read–from trashy novels, to the daily news, to celebrity bios. All fun and informative and way less complicated (and less cheesy) than those poems you read in high school.
So why am I writing a blog post about poetry? How can I possibly convince you to overlook all the bad experience you might have had with poetry and try again? Take a minute and think of your current favorite song . You know, the one that gets you out of bed in the morning, that you sing in the shower, that is getting you through your break up, that is set as your ringtone. Ok, you know how that song makes you feel every time you hear it? That’s what poetry can do. It can make you feel that way.
I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone…
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love
Sounds cheesy, right? But lucky me, the person who sent it had really great taste. I didn’t know it at the time, but this introduction would have a profound effect on my politics and world view.
Over the course of a few years, I discovered that Adrienne Rich writes poems about her life as a mother, a lesbian, a Jew, and a feminist. She also writes poems about war, violence, and the political landscape of America. And, more importantly, there is something about the way she puts words together that moves me. That allows me to see perspectives I could not have imagined on my own.
Adrienne Rich might not be the poet who changes your life. But I’m convinced that if you start reading poetry, there is a poet out there who will mean as much to you as she does to me.
When you start reading poetry, don’t worry about understanding all the images or allusions. You don’t need to identify the rhyme scheme. And maybe at the beginning it will just be a single line that hits you. That’s ok, keep reading. More and more will start to make sense. You’ll start to see patterns and themes and suddenly poetry won’t be as hard or cheesy as those high school verses you remember.