I don’t think any of us got out of high school without hearing the word sonnet or a piece of Browning’s How do I love thee. We all knew Shakespeare wrote some poems but most of us preferred Dr. Seuss. So when I was first told my words were poetry, my response was: yawn.
When I first started writing, I didn’t know it was poetry. I knew that I have always liked metaphor (comparing one thing to another unrelated thing) and found that if I compared, say, grief to a giant plate of food, people understood better. Poetry and metaphor grew out of my need to communicate.
I also know that when I write something essay-like, I can be really wordy. Poetry helped me be concise. It also looks pretty on the page.
But then I realized that auto mechanics don’t just work on Ford engines. (Well, I suppose some do.) I would think that if you enjoy engines, after a while you’d want to peek under the hood of a Chevy or a Toyota. If you write, it made sense to me that poetry, novels, personal essays – it would all hold some fascination. It’s words, after all.
So I embraced the poetry thing. I bought a book (Frances Mayes’ The Discovery of Poetry) and committed to writing every poetry form from an abecedarian to a yadu. Practice, I told myself. I found out that form made me work harder but it also taught me the music of a line. It taught me control. And weirdly enough, it was fun.
I’ve always believed that I just hated poetry (other than my own and one other writer), most was confusing and (at its worst) made me feel dumb. Mayes’ book introduced me to a myriad of other poets. I joined a poetry group that dissected poems for fun. What I discovered was that I didn’t hate poetry; I just had never found a poem I loved. We don’t all like the same art so why would we all enjoy the same poetry? The more I read, the more I understood.
I’ll admit, I still find Shakespeare’s poetry a bit dull and William Carlos Williams’ red wheelbarrow poem annoying but I feel Jamaica Kincaid’s anger at the unfairness of the world and Billy Collins’ murderous thoughts towards his neighbor’s dog.
That’s what a poem is supposed to do – make us feel.
In honor of National Poetry Month, try writing a simple poem even if it’s not your genre. You don’t have to show it to anyone. And read! Try some Billy Collins or Lucille Clifton, plug the words accessible poetry into google.
Do it for the love of words!