Learning About Poetry in an Anti-Poetry World

Even way back when I was in school, they didn’t teach poetry very well. I don’t remember learning much about poetry at all. I know my 6th grade English book had a short poem at the beginning of each chapter, which the teacher ignored. Some were by e. e. cummings, which was a major influence on the absolute lack of capital letters in my early poetry.

I know we had an assignment to write haiku in 6th grade, but I do not remember us ever being asked to READ any haiku in translation. It was more a syllable-counting exercise. I doubt any of us wrote anything that a real haiku poet would recognize as haiku. 

In high school, I had a teacher who gave us mimeographed pages with the words to Beatles songs in lieu of poetry. At the time I didn’t care much for Beatles songs— the Beatles were so OVER. I liked the Carpenters, Frankie Yankovic, and the Monkees instead. 

I also liked real poetry. My mom had a book called ‘The Best Loved Poems of the American People’ and I did read in it— at least the short poems, and the funny ones. 

Used to be some people thought that all poetry had to have rhyme and meter. Later, some people turned up their noses at poetry like that, calling it ‘greeting card verse.’ It IS hard to write rhymed-and-metered poetry without sounding trite, but some people can do it. Louis L’Amour, the famed Western writer, published a volume of poetry with many sonnets as his first book. I could no more write a sonnet than I could flap my arms and fly to Chicago.

Reading poetry, ideally from an early age, is the key to writing poetry. Think of it this way— poetry is another language, like German or Volapük. You learn a new language better if you start it before age 12— and if you don’t learn ANY language before age 12, as in the case of feral children, you likely will never learn to be a language user.

If you are older and haven’t much experience with poetry, you may never become a full ‘native speaker’ of the language of poetry. You may end up speaking the poetry language with a prose accent. But even if you are age 99, reading widely in poetry is a good step, for cultural literacy reasons even if you don’t plan on expressing yourself in poetic ways. 

What is YOUR history in reading poetry and learning about poetry? Share in a comment!

Poetic days to you,

Nissa Annakindt


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