So, the other day I was talking with someone about our favourite readings and what kind of books we like to read. We talked about fantasy, chick-lit and crime novels, the classics… and then out of nowhere: “What about poetry? Do you read any?”. We just stared at each other and I found myself saying “Yeah, I do!…but rarely. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that…”. Well, this got me thinking about poetry and “my relationship” with it.
(*Oh no… why is she talking about this subject, above all things!? it’s death boring!!!* Just bear it with me for a moment, will you? It might end up being something interesting.)
I first met poetry when I was about 12 years old. Before that, I remember being incredibly naïve and think that poetry was a bunch of songs written in The Lusiads to praise our people’s adventures during The Discoveries, a way to record and remember our history. Then school told me that, nop!, there’s actually some more people writing it. My teachers introduced me to Fernando Pessoa, Florbela Espanca, Jorge de Sena and several other great national poets that you probably never heard of and many international poets. To be honest, I didn’t care about any of them, mostly because I couldn’t understand them or relate to what they wrote. My teachers saw my lack of interest, but they kept insisting that poems were far greater and much more interesting than the last Harry Potter book. Come on… you’re saying this to a teenage nerdy/geeky girl! Nothing is more interesting than Harry Potter and The Princess Diaries to her (aka little 12 to 14 years old me).
So, I grew up ignoring poetry, knowing people who avoid it like the plague and hearing everybody say that poetry is dead, or about to die… People seem to be incapable to decide if it’s dead, just about to die or about to reborn (like a phoenix! who reborn from the ashes!). And life passed quietly by, while me and poetry were on “not talking” terms. Until college, where I was forced to meet it again and actually engage in conversation for more than 5 minutes. Oh…to hear it being praised for transforming the most ordinary things in golden rainbows and glittery palaces, that it could elevate the lowest mortal and show him/her the meaning of life and the universe beyond… (poetry bored me to the point of making me scream, so it’s normal I didn’t want to talk with it). So, there I was, sitting in a classroom full of people getting ready to enter in a brain collective coma, when out of the blue the professor says the unthinkable: People, lose your sad faces. Poetry is not a goddess we have to worship, neither a complicated mathematical equation of words and verses we need to crack during the next couple of hours. Poetry is a form of writing in which the length of the line is decided by the author, not by the printer. It is not the affirmation of what is the Truth, it is a way we use to express our truths and make them more real.
That got me interested. What he showed us later made me review what I had learned about poetry. We met Sharon Olds, a favourite of mine, who wrote about being a feminist and women rights, and several other cool people who spoke their minds in verse because they thought it cooler than just writing plain prose. And I actually liked it. I even wrote some scribbles myself, at the time.
Nowadays, despite rarely reading poetry, I enjoy it. Why don’t I read more poetry? Because no one talks about it and, unless I go digging to find some new and interesting stuff to read, I have no information whatsoever on the subject. Of course, this refers to contemporary poetry; there’s plenty information of poetry classics, but we can’t forever read the same things, can we?
So, this lead me to think that poetry has trouble making friends for 3 main reasons:
- Classroom Boredom: The way school talks about poetry doesn’t help its case. Obligatory readings should be revised. There’s no way an early adolescent kid will be interested in the classic poets, much less like it if you are obligating him/her to read it over and over. We need to find new teaching methods. I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach poetry at schools. I’m saying that we should try to do it in a more interesting way, with a selection of poems that would be more appealing to nowadays kids. Otherwise we’ll be growing people afraid of poetry, we’ll continue to push people away from it. Stop doing it teachers, please. Make it fun instead of boring.
- Pride and Prejudice: No, it’s not Mr. Darcy’s fault. It’s people’s general mentality saying that poetry is too proud about itself, siting in a high pedestal, waiting for us to bow down and worship its greatness. That’s untrue, and it’s a consequence of the Classroom Boredom time we have to endure during our teenage years.
- “It’s dead, haven’t you heard?”: Once in a while we have a bunch of articles spreading the rumor of its dead and that’s never a good thing. Why they focus on saying poetry is dead instead of promoting contemporary poets, is something I’ll never understand. What we need is to know more about the new poets. We should be hearing about the poets of our days, who write about stuff we are concerned now.
Poetry isn’t about an absolute truth with elaborate or fancy logical arguments. In fact, I think it is about something that is real to us, made more truthful by writing it on paper. In the end, poetry can be about anything we want to. It can be fun or sad, it can leave you breathless. It can be powerful, or just silly. You can find yourself in it, or lose yourself in it. It matters everything and nothing. It doesn’t have to follow strict grammatical rules, be hard to follow or relate to. It doesn’t have to be embroidered in gold. It comes in different genres! Now that I mentioned it, we probably have sci fi and steampunk poetry and no one even bothers to spread the word about it.
Anyway, this is why I avoid discussion posts. When I start talking I have trouble stopping. If you kept reading until now, thank you! I love your dedication and I’m sending you lots of virtual hugs. As a treat, I suggest you to read a great poem by Patricia Lockwood called Rape Joke (click here to read it, it’s published online for free). It just blew my mind off when I read it. Also, check out Taylor Mali’s poem What Teachers Make adapted to comics by ZenPencils (click here to read it). It’s a really good example of how we can make things interesting and fun!
Now, I’ve said enough already. Let me know what you think about poetry! Do you read it? Do you fear it? Do you hate it? Do you think my perception on this matter is wrong? How was your first experience with poetry? I do admit that being from a non-English speaking country with its own school system might have a huge influence in my perception and experience with poetry. Still, share your thoughts and experiences with me and, if you read Lockwood’s poem, let me know if you liked it or not. 😉
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