This morning I had the pleasure of reading a portion of Mary Oliver’s poem “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” and coming to tears over it. I began contemplating the strong responses different individuals have to poetry…
I know I’ve written about poetry before, usually in April when I encourage my children to participate in National Poetry Month by reading from a variety of poets & writing their own haiku or limericks. I think back to when I was a teenager frustrated with trying to understand some centuries old verse full of complicated language and obscure references. I wish there had been more work like Oliver’s & Angelou’s in those dusty old school books.
I may wonder, briefly, why so many people groan and grimace when they hear someone mentioning poetry. Then that 14 year old me awakens in my brain and says “Seriously? Do we have to go over ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ again?” A quick search of Google this morning presents me with 160 million pages of results for “reasons people don’t like poetry.” The first being an article on the site PoeJazzi entitled “10 Reasons People Hate Poetry” by Kevin Pocock
Remembering my young self, my dislike of poetry was about more than feeling ignorant when presented with that dense old verse. It was being told to write a poem for class and feeling embarrassed at it’s inadequacy, the frustration with the different rhythms, it was the sense that the only other poetry out there was in the schmaltzy script on the cover of a Hallmark card. But above all, I believe it was my own lack of experience.
I was a teenager. I had felt the highs of young love, and the heartbreak, the gloomy mood swings, and the universal sense of being completely misunderstood…
But the primary reason I found it difficult to enjoy poetry was I’d simply not lived enough to find understanding and empathy in the works of poets. Life is full of so many feelings and experiences far beyond the scope of an adolescent’s imagination. I think we need to have lived a bit more to fully embrace good poetry, or good writing in general. Unfortunately, with the number of people who would rather clean out their garage than read poetry, it seems that once the forced readings of those school days are left behind, the bad impressions are strong enough to deter further attempts to enjoy the art.
There is a quote that is attributed to Mark Twain (and Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw): “Youth is wasted on the young.” I think the same could be said for poetry. That won’t stop me from encouraging my children read it, but it does go a long way to maintain my calm when they pull out that “do we haaaaave to?” whine. It should also serve to remind, that when one has a chance, sharing a moving poem provides an opportunity to awaken others to the beauty and emotional connection contained within the words.