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The Fear of Poetry; Why And What Can Be Done

Updated on February 2, 2012


As an emerging poet, it saddens me to discover that poetry is now the least popular type of literature in America. I struggle a bit to try and answer the question as to why this is. The basic response is simply because poetry is difficult. Poetry isn't only hard to follow at times, but it is sometimes too personal to the poet themselves. This leaves a gap in connection between the author and their readers.

Poetry relies heavily on imagery, and some people struggle with creating mental images in their head. No matter how well poetry is written, its message is sometimes incomprehensible to a reader. For example, I recently wrote a poem about a hornet being a metaphor for a woman I knew. One reader thought it was a general hatred towards modern society, while another thought it was solely about bees. The thing is, poetry is going to mean something different to all of its readers. And that's what Americans don't like.

Americans want everything fast. They want it clear and they want it now. Poetry makes the reader think about every line, every word; each punctuation mark and every capital letter. It's all written the way that it is for a reason. For example, in a famous Siegfried Sassoon poem titled "On Passing the New Menin Gate," the word 'Dead' is capitalized in the middle of a sentence. But why is Dead capitalized? Dead isn't the name of a person. Perhaps it is a name for all who should be honored in death? Maybe it is capitalized solely to draw your attention to it? The meaning is clear only to the original author. Popular beliefs and guesses can be drawn, but actual official declaration cannot be made. For some, that is what is so frusterating about poetry, but for others; it is what is so wonderful about it.

When i write a poem, I typically have a specific message and meaning to get across. This meaning, though, is usually masked in ambigous and/or complex language or words. Many times, people read my work and come up with a completely different conclusion than what I intended. As a writer, I don't view this as a failure. I view it as a reader taking something; anything, from my work and understanding it in the way they choose to understand. One poem can mean a hundred different things to different people, but as long as it impacts them in some way, I see the work a success. This, of course, does not mean that a poet simply writes random words onto paper whilst hoping for a successful outcome. Poetry is carefully thought out with each word and grammatical clue.


What Can Be Done?

Let's take a small excerpt from one of my own works, one that isn't terribly difficult to grasp. We will use the line, "The citrus orb rose opposite its earlier departure." I'm sure most of you can make out what this line means, but lets examine it. First, we must look at the first noun we come across, 'orb'. We ask ourselves, what is an orb? Often, it is something that glows and has a circular shape. Now we look at the adjective(s) to describe it. here it is describes as citrus. Something round and citrusy could resemble an orange. Then we think, what could be an orange orb? We read on to continue looking for clues. If the orange orb rose, then it must be able to move. If it's rising opposite of its last departure, we can infer that the citrus orb is describing the sun rising early at dawn; opposite of when it fell the night before.

Not all lines are as easy to decipher as this, and for most of you it probably didn't even need deciphering. One tactic to better yourself at reading poetry is to understand a bit about how one sentence can be rewritten in multiple ways. Sometimes the words come right to a poet, but other times he/she must start with a simple thought and expand upon it. Let's have a simple sentence, such as, 'The dog barked loudly in the shed.' Now we can think of various other ways to say this very same sentence. A poet relies heavily on senses and feelings to create imagery. What does the dog looks like? What else is in the shed? Would it cause an echo? Could the moon be shining through the slits of the shed door? Could others hear the barking outside?

By asking questions like the above, a poet can come up with a way to make that specific sentence his or her own. One way I could rewrite the above sentence is, 'Horrorific yelps richocethed from the metallic shed, causing the two crows on the roof to depart in a flutter.' Another way I could rewrite the sentence is, 'The dog was met harshly with it's own voice as the sheet metal walls spit howls back into his face." There, I took it from the point of view of the actual subject. Next, I can give the sentence from an unidentified point of view. "The air was warmed from the snarling nostrils of the dog; it's teeth dull and yellow against the vibrant moonshine." By examining this single sentence from different perspectives, the author can change the same story into telling whatever he or she wishes. The goal is to think about the surroundings. Put yourself in that scenario and write about everything you see. This is why having an image-based mindset is vital to writing.

It truly is a shame that some people don't read poetry solely for the fact that they are afraid of it. Some people just don't want to take the time to understand it. But I would argue that you can get just as much out of a page-long poem as you can get out of a section in a novel. Poetry is often an overwhelming amount of information crammed onto a few short pages, if not a single page. This is why each line is integral to a poems message. By slowing down, we find meaning and become more educated.

Poetry on the Rise

There was recently a movement titled "Poetry 180", in which a group of poets submitted their work to be read over the loud speaker at schools every day for an entire year. Lead by poet Billy Collins, the goal of the program was to raise poetry awareness, and many students reported looking forward to the daily readings. It gave them something to think about; something to dissect and make sense out of for themselves. The collection of poems and writings from Collins can be purchased by following the provided Amazon link.

As for myself, I am in the final stages of preparing my first collection of poetry for self-publication. Currently in the editing processes, my collection titled 'Fabricated Autumn' should be available on e-reading devices by the end of March. Hard copies are planned on being sold on my website listed below, directly from me at the time of release. I am also looking into Amazon carrying hard copies of my book as well. If you like the work on my website, please consider purchasing my collection upon its release date. You are always free to leave honest comments as well. I hope that this article has opened your mind about poetry, if even in the slightest way. Thank you!



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