Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The W's of Reading: My Own Mere Fondness

Poetry. Why is this beautiful art form so under appreciated? According to a thought-provoking post, "Mere Fondness for the Beautiful," by Stephen Burt of Harvard University, poetry is on the decline. In fact, one statistic posed by the National Endowment for the Arts stated that only 8% read at least one poem in 2007, compared to 17% in 1992. Why? What is it about poetry?

I posed this question to my AP class yesterday, as I had heard murmuring for days about "reading into" poetry. As a teacher, you feel endless angst about teaching literature in a way that will turn anyone off, and yet there is so much to cover that you often have to push those worries aside and just TEACH. I then had to ask myself my own feelings about poetry, and here's what I came up with.
  • I love poetry that I understand.
  • I have to read poetry with a writing utensil, as I like to see what I begin to pull from the piece.
  • Some poems I'll revisit a million times, just because they sound pretty (i.e. "I Wander Lonely as a Cloud," by William Wordsworth), and others because I love the message or story (i.e. "Digging," by Seamus Heaney).
  • I'll own up here for a second. I used to hate poetry...outside of the classroom. In other words, I loved it when my English teachers would go through a poem and discuss it with us, but didn't care much for doing it on my own. Then, I took a graduate class that tore me down and built me back to the point where I now feel confident doing it all on my own.
  • Poetry has to be shared! I hate reading a poem and not being able to share what I found in it.
  • You can't really read poetry mindlessly, meaning that I can't crawl into bed to read a great book of poetry; my mind and senses have to be engaged to read poetry, and that takes a little work on my part.
  • Poetry intimidates me at times. Some messages are so dense with ideas (hello, Mr. T.S. Eliot!), that I shudder.
  • I get frustrated when people brush off poetry as "stupid" because they don't understand it.
My own feelings could go on forever. As with other disciplines, I often wonder if I'd spent as much time with math or art as I have with literature, if I'd have come to a wonderful epiphany or symbiosis with those subjects as well? I'm sure the answer is yes, which is one reason that I think I actually do love literature so much. Isn't it true that literature allows us to delve into many disciplines? I can see the life and soul's ambition of so many different people, through writing, that I kind of want to keep learning.

In conclusion, maybe it's as Burt states in his own post on this subject, when he reminisced that poetry used to be an issue of how people once "used" poetry. People once read, and reread poetry, they connected to it. People used to sit and write a poem to express their feelings and thoughts. Poems were posted in newspapers, sharing views on life, love, and politics with its readers. And yet, as Burt says, "We have lost that kind of cultural relation to poetry." I don't really know what it takes to have that "relation" to poetry today, other than to just try to keep making it a part of my own life, but I do know that it's one worth continuing to examine, consider, and talk about. So, to my dear students hating poetry, I say I'll try to do better to show you its beauty, and then hope to help you connect it to yourselves in some sort of culturally relevant way.

In conclusion, I've included links to several of my favorite poems.

"A Psalm of Life"by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by W. B. Yeats
"Punishment" by Seamus Heaney

And to conclude on this dark, wintry day, what better way than to end with a poem about the darkness of winter. I love this beautiful little contrasting poem of winter and the hardiness of nature in Thomas Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush."

I know I'm talking to a community of readers, for the most part, so many of you love language of any sort. What are your thoughts on poetry? Do you like poetry? Do you read poetry? What most speaks to you in a poem?


  1. I also prefer poetry that I can understand. For me, I appreciate when a tree is just a tree. :0)

    I remember when I was in high school my English teacher was having a hard time reaching students during the poetry section. One day she walked in with a tape recorder and told us all to close our eyes. She then played Simon and Garfunkel's "I am a Rock". She followed with The Police's "King of Pain" and Supertramp's "Logical Song". It was amazing. And it opened up the class to more traditional poetry. After all, most songs are just poetry put to music.

  2. I used to read and write a lot of poetry, but have gotten away from it over the years. I don't know why. I've heard some people claim that it is because you grow out of it, that many who write or read it are younger . . . I don't know!

  3. You should have put this in my FreeVerse Mr. Linky today. We had good stuff. I even posted a thought-provoking WCW poem.

    Oddly enough, I don't really like most poetry, yet I started a poetry meme. Craziness.

  4. I know you'll be disappointed in me, but I'm not big into poetry. I vaguely remember reading it in AP English in high school, and there's a book of love poems I've read that I really enjoyed, but that's about it. I don't think it's stupid or anything, it just doesn't register on my radar the way novels do.