April is National Poetry Month, and seeing how we’ve only three days left, posting about poetry is either now or never! Although I was an English major and always bookish, poetry was quite another thing. In short, I just didn’t like it. A fantastic poetry prof in college helped open my mind a bit, but I just couldn’t get excited over the stuff.
I was always intrigued by Emily Dickinson’s poems, but truthfully, I think the bleak romance of her life story is what drew me initially, not her language. But after faithfully reading the three volume Letter s of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas Johnson (Harvard Press), I bought her complete works and was hooked. Dickinson’s poems are some of the few I’ve memorized and if I was a few years younger, I’d probably get a tattoo based on this (yes, really):
Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
Fast forward to teaching the Odyssey to high school freshmen—I know, to some a fate worse than death—and I found myself (finally, English teacher that I was) truly appreciative of the imagery, the word play, the cadence, probably because I read so much of it aloud to the kids.
And that’s, I think, the hook to falling for poetry. You must listen to it read by expert readers. Like poets … My husband and I had the serendipitous opportunity to hear poet laureate Billy Collins and poet Naomi Shihab Nye read at a local college nearly. The notice was in the Sunday paper, it was small, but we thought, “Wow! Poet laureate—let’s go” not even knowing Collins’ work at the time.
Oh. My. Goodness. We were smitten. Reading Collins—and especially listening to him—I discovered poetry could be not only insightful and musical, but witty and droll. The poet laureate was down-to-earth, humble, and oh-so-fun. Here’s the first poem Collins read that evening:
See what I mean?!
You may be one of the lucky ones who has always had a love for poetry, but I came to my appreciation late. If you’re still reluctant, try a little Dickinson or Collins. Go to Youtube and listen to Sara Kay and Taylor Mali’s spoken word.
Don’t worry about being serious; don’t think you’re not sophisticated enough. Just let yourself be delighted.