Ten Things You Should Know about Poetry

No, it isn’t easy to limit all there is to say about poetry to ten points, but . . .

  1. this is a blog post.
  2. you’re a busy person.
  3. I don’t know all there is to say about poetry.

But that won’t stop me from trying to share a little bit about a genre I’ve grown to love over the years. So, let’s give this a try, shall we? Here we go . . .

  1. Poetry is all around you. Yes. There was a time when people would read, memorize, and recite the newest poems. Aaaaand not much has changed. It’s just that now, those poems are often set to music and distributed over YouTube, music apps, radio, stages, and the like. No, not all of it is good. Not all of the poetry of yesteryear was good either. Time has a way of erasing the ones that don’t last. In the meantime, enjoy the poetry you listen to every day. It doesn’t always have to be profound—enjoy it. Memorize it. Recite (sing?) it.
  2. Poetry is easier than it looks. “I’m no poet.” I’ve told myself this lie. My former students have too. You don’t have to be Shakespeare to create something meaningful with your words.
  3. Poetry is harder than it looks. That’s right. It’s called paradox—and it’s a poetic device. While no one should hesitate to try poetry, no one should assume he or she is an instant expert either. The more you learn, the more you realize you have a lot to learn. That’s okay! Keep working at it.
  4. Poetry has patterns. Okay, let’s get just a little more practical here. One aspect that makes poetry enjoyable is the way a poem has symmetry. Maybe the patterns come with a repeating refrain. Maybe it’s a certain syntax that threads throughout. It could be the rhythm or a theme. It could be the length of the lines. Likely, there’s a combination of several of these traits that keep a reader wanting more, anticipating the next few words.
  5. Poetry has a sound. Admit it. You have visions of sophisticated intellects reading a volume of poetry while silently reclining in a plush study. No? Just me? Well, good. Because while poetry can be read silently, it’s best enjoyed out loud. There is rhythm. There is rhyme. And while not all poems use direct rhyme (cat, bat, sat) or end rhyme (at the end of each line), there is often assonance (flat, cram, shack), consonance (spark, fork, spar, speak), alliteration (fuzzy feathers float and fly), and internal rhyme (within a line, stanza, or poem). Does it feel silly to read out loud? You’ll get over it. Or you’ll find a quiet room. Or you’ll enlist the help of an attentive child who will appreciate the performance, whether it’s Seuss or Shakespeare.
  6. Poetry has a point. Sure, the point might just be to give you a break from the mundane. It may even be to add some levity in your life. But in addition to those worthy causes, there are most certainly times when poetry can stop you in the middle of a word, arrested with a feeling of loss or joy. It can force you to reread a single line a dozen times, reflecting on the nuances of the meaning. In short, poetry can affect you in the smallest and most profound ways.
  7. Poetry is an art. Yes, some poems even take on shapes so that it can aesthetically portray a picture with both form and content. But even when it doesn’t, there is a beauty to poetry that takes great care and craftsmanship, balancing technique and inspiration to make something worthwhile.
  8. Poetry is a science. There I go again with a paradox. I can’t help myself. But free verse, sonnets, and sestinas alike require certain objectives to be met. And let’s not forget economy: there is no space to waste words in poetry. Even epic poems need to utilize every syllable to create an overall whole where every moment matters.
  9. Poetry is not just in poems. Great prose laces poetry in and out of its sentences, weaving beautiful (or terrible) language through a narrative to create mood, tone, tension, voice, all those things that make writing great. There’s also metaphor, similes, personification, and the list goes on.
  10.  Poetry is a gift. Poetry is one of those many pieces of evidence that this life is more than survival. Poetry allows us to transcend, wallow, reflect, and prophesy. It can be a means for mourning, a call to action, a pause in peace. So, go ahead. Read a poem. Write a poem. And share the gift of poetry with someone else.