What is poetry? You might be thinking April Fools! Let me assure you my question is quite serious. First of all, April is National Poetry Month, and I figured I may as well incorporate a few poetry-related blog posts throughout the month. Second of all, I love poetry. Yet, it’s not that I write much poetry, and I typically only read it on a whim. So let me re-phrase that: I love teaching poetry.
As with all writing, poetry can range from simple to complex in its message and forms taken. To me, the best poems are those that reveal new insight with each repeated reading. Poetry challenges us to be economical with language, and it also brings back that sense of play we often lose with language as we grow older. A couple of poems I’ve posted on this website include an extended metaphor titled All for Show and a poem inspired by Munch’s famous painting titled Screaming.
Please take a second to think of how your notions of reading and writing poetry formed. Now read the poem below.
Some Like Poetry by Wisalaw Szymborska
thus not all. Not even the majority of all but the minority.
Not counting schools, where one has to,
and the poets themselves,
there might be two people per thousand.
but one also likes chicken soup with noodles,
one likes compliments and the color blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes having the upper hand,
one likes stroking a dog.
but what is poetry.
Many shaky answers
have been given to this question.
But I don’t know and don’t know and hold on to it
like to a sustaining railing.
Translated by Regina Grol
I always shared the poem above when introducing a unit on poetry to high school sophomores. I now ask for a hypothetical raise of hands: Do you read poetry on a regular basis. Just like my former students, you might be making a funny face. We often have lofty images in our minds of the sort of people who read and write poetry. Now let me ask for another hypothetical raise of hands: How often do you listen to music with lyrics?
Ahhh, see you do like poetry! Poetry conveys emotion, but it is so much more than that. The reason why I enjoy teaching poetic forms so much is because it’s the one time we seem to give ourselves permission to just simply play with language.
Perhaps one of the most famous moments in cinema for defining poetry occurs in the movie Dead Poets’ Society.
How do you personally define poetry? What sorts of encounters have you had, either past or present, with poetry in your daily life? If you don’t consider yourself a poetry lover, what musician/poet do you love?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.