I didn't always love poetry. Frankly, when it comes to literature of any sort, I'm more of a proletariat, one who prefers contemporary language and ideas. I am quickly annoyed when writing gets in the way of communication. "Just get to the point, will ya?" is my frequent plea as a reader.
I took a class on Poetry of the Romantic Era in college, and it was full of chaps that I had heard of, but not really read - Byron, Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth. This will give me a well-rounded poetry education, I thought.
I hated it.
Aside from the issues of deciphering words and ideas specific to another time and place, I felt that the conventions of traditional poetry sometimes stood in the way of understanding. Made-up words like twixt and e'en don't enhance communication, and convoluted word order can absolutely inhibit it.
This doesn't mean I am completely against traditional poetry. One of my favorite poems is Shakespeare's sonnet 30, When to the sessions of sweet silent thought. It includes some of those elements that make me crazy, but the meaning, the emotion, come through in a way that still can make me gasp with awareness, thirty years after I first read it. I also found Emily Dickinson's poems charming, with their commonplace subjects, flights of fancy, and off-kilter rhymes.
A few years ago, I heard Billy Collins, former US Poet Laureate, say that the Victorians took the sex out of poetry and replaced it with landscape. To my thinking, he was not talking about just sex, but all sorts of earthiness or passion that fall out of favor from time to time. That, I thought, is why I don't like so many of the poems that are supposedly classics. No matter how skillfully they work the techniques of poetry, they just didn't move me.
Queen Victoria has been dead for more than 100 years, and I'm pleased to report that poetry is more diverse than ever. Rhymed, unrhymed, long, short, formal, informal, deep, accessible - whatever you like, it's out there. English language poets are not only twisting the traditions of their own poetic heritage, but exploring and adapting the poetry of other cultures. Haiku, anyone? How about a nice ghazal?
These days, if you can't find poetry that appeals to you, you aren't trying.
The Academy of American Poets knows this. For years, they have promoted April as National Poetry Month to encourage an awareness and appreciation of poetry. Poetry Month concludes on April 30 with Poem In Your Pocket Day. People are encouraged to find a poem they like and carry it with them on that day. Beyond that, you are on your own with how you incorporate the poem into your day. Read it to yourself, read it out loud, give it away. tape it to your computer monitor, post it on your blog, draw a picture about it, use it as inspiration to write your own poem. Do whatever you want, but do enjoy the journey of finding and enjoying poetry.
The links above will lead you to plenty of choices for your pocket poem, but if you can't find anything that seems quite right, let me offer you the first poem I ever memorized. It's small enough to fit on the back of a business card, and simple enough that an eight year old can understand it.
She frowned and called him Mr.
Because in sport he kr.
And so in spite
That very night
This Mr. kr. sr.