I think people are afraid of poetry. Yep. Lots of people shrink and inwardly quiver at the thought of being asked to read or understand poetry. I see it and hear it all of the time. The stepping back from the conversation if poetry shows up, the instant denials and disclaimers that it is “not my thing”. Fear dressing as disinterest.
The odd thing to me, is that poetry is actually about bringing us into focus, bringing us closer to an image or perception. It is often a big magnifying glass held up to the world to show us things that we might miss. Show us things that belong together that we might not have thought of as being connected.
Here is a little secret. I get nervous too, and I am a poet! Some poetry is complex and layered and loaded with obscure literary, biblical, Shakespearean or cultural allusions. I don’t always have the patience to sit with these apparent puzzles. That is ok. Maybe another morning or month or year that will happen, but I don’t have to do it today just because someone else thinks it is a masterpiece.
I won’t love all poets. I won’t love all poetry. But some will slay me, touch me, change me, enchant me, please me in surprising ways.
I do remember the first time I heard a Shakespearean play. The words were recognizable. It was in the English language but it was different in a way that I couldn’t figure out. I was in my teens and sitting in a movie theater watching a production of Romeo and Juliet on the big screen, but while I listened, I felt like I understood nothing. The cadence and the archaic word usage threw me, made me feel frustrated and a little dumb. But I was there on a class trip so I wasn’t free to just jump up and walk out. Oddly after a few minutes I was able to “get” more of what was being said. It was like listening to a foreign language and after having studied for years, FINALLY understanding. I realized I was capable of letting my brain float around the words and find the meaning. Mostly.
So here is the invitation! Find some poems that seem accessible to you, people like Mary Oliver, David Whyte or even mine. Maybe the whole thing will feel like a short story, or a tale an excited friend is telling you, without the punctuation or all the words, but somehow you get it. Let the words wash over you a few times. Try reading them out loud. Something will fall out for you. I am sure of it.
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