There is, all too regrettably, an entire form of literature that is frequently overlooked by the average millennial reader. How many times have you walked straight past the poetry section in a bookstore without giving a second thought to exploring it? I hear it all the time: poetry is complicated/nonsensical/difficult/nothing but a torture device for English majors. Now, I won’t lie to you: these things are often true. However, that certainly does not mean you should be scared off by the bad impression of poetry you were probably given by those high school lit classes. I’m here to tell you why.
What Poetry Is:
Poetry is music we speak. In fact, technically, poetry that is not narrative or epic (think Homer’s “Odyssey”) is classified as “lyric poetry.” It is meant to be spoken. That’s why it is written in certain rhythms and styles that we English majors have a bunch of complicated-sounding terms for, like “iambic pentameter.” Songwriters are just a slightly different kind of poet (for example: did you know before she started making music, a young Taylor Swift won a national poetry contest?).
What Poetry Is NOT:
It is not a sophisticated and philosophical art form reserved for the intellectuals and scholars among us. It is not designed specifically to frustrate the reader (unless you are reading a particularly mischievous poet). It’s not just something English majors care about so you don’t have to: it’s art like any other, intended for the enjoyment of all. Just as you don’t need a degree in painting in order to enjoy Van Gogh, you don’t need a degree in literature to enjoy Keats or Angelou.
It’s also not exclusively high-brow: while it is true that a lot of the great classic poetry carries complex philosophical and religious reflections and themes (after all, great art exists because it has something important to say), poetry can be about literally anything. One of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, was a philosopher in his own right and wrote mainly religious poetry. However, he also wrote a silly poem complaining about someone who hadn’t sent him a birthday letter. One of the most famous examples of goofy poetry is “Purple Cow” by Gellett Burgess:
I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.
Why You Should Read Poetry (Or At Least Give It a Try):
It sounds cheesy, I know, but poetry is good for the mind and the soul. From the comical poetry of Shel Silverstein to the wisdom of Seamus Heaney to the morbid whimsy of Emily Dickinson, poetry demands attentive reading and prompts appreciation of the beauty of language in ways that prose simply isn’t designed to. There is poetry for everyone, every taste, and every mood. Whether you need a good laugh or comforting words of wisdom, whether you want to immerse yourself in the sublime wonder of the Romantics or you just want a good pick-up line, I guarantee there’s a poem for you. Just give it a try and take a look around that poetry section for once. A whole new world of art will be opened up to you; a world that will surely enrich your life.
Here are a few good poetry-related websites to get you started:
Bartleby.com – This website has hundreds of poems, anthologies, quotes and more available to read for free online.
The Poetry Foundation – “…an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture.”
Supper Summary -“… comprehensive learning guide for poets, students, and educators
A Poem A Day – This is a Tumblr blog that posts a single poem every day. Following it would be a great way to casually introduce more poetry into your daily life.
I would also recommend just searching “poetry” on Tumblr and following some of the blogs where people post their own original poetry. You get to enjoy their work, and you’re supporting a blossoming artist.