Why You Should Read Poetry (Even If You Think You Hate It)

April is National Poetry Month, and to celebrate I’m going to be blogging about poetry-related things all month. (You can also join in the fun on Twitter with the hashtag #NPM14.)

Aaaaaand… I’ve probably already lost some of you.

“I don’t like poetry,” is a common statement and (I suspect) an even more common thought. Before you write me off for the next four blog posts, I’m going to tell you a secret. But you can’t judge me. Okay, you can, but you shouldn’t, because then I’m going to explain. Are you ready?

I don’t always like reading poetry.

Oh, it hurt to type, especially since I’m a poet myself. But it’s a true statement. If I give in to hedonistic instinct, I’ll pick up a novel over a book of poetry most of the time. With a cohesive plot pulling me along and recurring characters in situations I want to see out, novels and stories are easier, faster, and more likely to be fun. The act of reading a book of poetry is often not… fun. I have to make myself do it. I have to force myself to remember that it’s worth it. Because that’s the caveat: it’s worth it.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I love poetry. It seems that people tend to focus on the negative, so let me repeat that: I love poetry. But so many people don’t. So many people think they hate it. We poetry enthusiasts don’t like that, because we know how much value it can add to a person’s life. Out of that good intention — wanting to share the pleasure — we sometimes end up ranting and raving about how blissful poetry is, how wonderful, transcendent, etc. to try to interest the uninterested. The problem there is that when people hear that and decide to give poetry another shot, they’re often disappointed. The build-up is too much, the let-down too drastic. Which is why I’m writing this post. I do believe that poetry can enrich people’s lives, but I want to be real about it. If you don’t like poetry (or think you don’t), this is what I think you should know.

No one likes every poem. (I’m 99% sure of that.) Most people, if they’re being honest, will admit that they only truly like maybe one out of every dozen poems they read. Perhaps that statistic improves based on what author or collection they’re reading at any given time, but even if you’re reading a book by an author you very much admire, it’s rare to like every poem. The fact of the matter is there are dozens of different “types” of poems (or hundreds or thousands, depending on how broad your categories are), and most of us don’t like all of them. Some people hardly like any of them.

So reading through a whole book of poems can feel like a slog. Depending on the author, my mood, the subject matter, the style… sometimes I’ll read a whole book and go, “Why’d I bother?” Even if I can appreciate the poetry, I sometimes still don’t like it. Robert Frost is a great example of that, for me personally. I admire the hell out of his work – and the poems I love I love deeply (3 or 4 of his make my top 50 list for sure), and I believe they’re truly brilliant – but reading his collected works felt like torture to me. Man, he has a lot of poems that just don’t do it for me.

Why bother, then? If reading poetry isn’t fun, what’s the point?

Because maybe if I hadn’t read his collected works I wouldn’t have run into those 3 or 4 that truly touched me, that I carry around in my psyche. Maybe Frost isn’t the best example here, because most of us read at least the most famous of his poems in school, but just think if the same thing happened with someone you didn’t read in school. If you didn’t read through the Meh you’d never get to the Wow.

I believe that not all things worth doing are fun. I believe that there’s value beyond entertainment – beyond simple pleasure. Like yoga, meditation, or jogging: sometimes the act of doing something isn’t always enjoyable, but we do it anyway because somehow, for some reason, it makes us better people. And if we keep at it long enough we’ll hit the right moment, right mood, right magic, and suddenly it does become fun. The more we do it, the more often we achieve this. For me, poetry is like that.

Even poems that I don’t “like” have things to offer. Things I hadn’t thought of, rhythms or word choices that spark something in my mind, a different point of view, or even a reaffirmation of what I already believe. These are things of worth.

And like I said, we have to read the neutral (and bad) poems to get to the soul-shakers. Yes, we can increase our odds by reading famous poets, favorite poets, or highly recommended poets, but no one else can tell you your exact taste or predict what specifically is going to get to your core and touch you. And you don’t really know either, until you read them, which is why you sometimes have to strike out. It’s worth trudging through a few mediocre books of poetry to find a real treasure. Sometimes the most stunning poems come in the most unexpected places. Sometimes you’re the only one who sees it.

And guys, those moments are worth it. When it comes to moments of impact, profundity, and awe, there are few things in this life as powerful as just the right poem.

So today, in honor of National Poetry Month, I’d like to encourage you – all of you – not to give up just yet. Keep searching, keep reading, keep exploring to find your extra-special, remember-forever, read-and-re-read poem. I assure you; it exists. Maybe even more than one.

So get out there and find them. If you’re lucky, you might even run into a little fun along the way.

~*~

Don’t leave me hanging! I’ve confessed my deep dark secret; now it’s your turn. Do you think reading poetry is always enjoyable? Have you found a soul-shaker poem or two? And is there anything in your life that you do because it makes you better, rather than because it’s fun?

Share this:
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
This entry was posted in Poetry and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.