Understanding Poetry: Lesson 1

I've heard several comments recently (as I've started posting more poetry on my blog) --  comments from people who "don't like poetry" or "don't get poetry" and I have to say, this kills me and my inner poet every time. 

"I don't like poetry!"
Here's the problem.  Poetry has been hijacked by marketers and twisted into becoming nothing more than a few catchy (if we're lucky) phrases that rhyme, thrown together to promote the remembrance of some product.  Poetry is NOT some corporate whore, people.  No wonder people don't like her.  That is NOT poetry; I wouldn't want to hang out with that kind of tramp all the time either.

"I don't get poetry!"
Here's the problem.  Poetry has been abused, raped, and beaten to death by English teachers everywhere, who feel the need to overanalyze each and every poetic device ad nauseam (it's okay; I can say this as I was one of those teachers for a couple years).  Poetry is a thing of beauty.  It's meant to be admired, adored, and loved -- not clawed and pawed at, undressed unceremoniously and left to quiver nakedly under some malicious scrutiny.  What a horrible way to cheapen poetry into some dirty little tramp in a darkened back alley!  No wonder people don't get her.  I wouldn't be looking to understand someone I was treating that way either.

So how do I enjoy poetry then?

For the men reading this, welcome to what women REALLY want as well; take notes! (lol)  You ready?  Here it is: Treat Poetry like the amazing woman that she is: 
  1. Like any woman, Poetry needs to be wined and dined.  She has secrets hiding deep within like any woman.  She wants to be known like any woman.  But, yes, you are going to have to take the time to get to know her.  Seek her beauty and she will reward you in kind.
  2. Savor the moments.  Like a fine wine (and yes, this analogy still applies to women too!), poetry cannot be rushed.  Inhale the scent of the overall bouquet -- the beauty of the soft sounds whispered solemnly (poetry should be heard as well as seen -- read aloud).  Every sip must be rolled around on the tongue.  Taste...  Every... Word...  And feel the rush that follows -- the beautiful agony of burning desire.  Appreciate the pain from which the beauty came, the crushing of the soul to squeeze the last drops of sweetness.  The capturing of each and every image, thought, and feeling... and the time, the churning, and the careful attention that it takes for them to mingle and age into something of worth.
This is your first lesson in understanding poetry.  More to come.  Above all, wait for True Poetry (the ONE).  Accept no imitations or substitutes.  Nothing satiates the soul like the throes of poetic passion and the amazing afterglow that awaits.


Jason Kichline said...

I have to say that in writing poetry, there is fake poetry and real poetry, and I can tell the difference. If the poem feels contrived, then it is not real. True poetry pours directly from the soul in the way that it writes itself with fingers working nimbly to keep up.

I love your illustration of poetry as a woman. Always read poetry with your mouth, not just your mind. Do it in silence, or choose a song to compliment it. Visualize. But let the flow of the words paint a spiritual picture. The soul of the writer can be transferred in part by it's reading.

kj said...

Well said!
Marvelous analogy here. Hmmm...for someone who doesn't like wine, you know an awful lot about it.

I must, however, take exception to your comment that"Poetry has been abused, raped, and beaten to death by English teachers everywhere..."
No, not English teachers everywhere--just CERTAIN English teachers. I never inflicted that method of teaching poetry on any of my students!

Nean said...

LOL... I have learned a lot about wine in the past couple months!

I guess if I had kj as my poetry teacher in school, I might feel differently. Don't get me wrong; there is something to be said for studying poetic elements and all that; knowing what limitations the poet conformed to in crafting his/her work can yield a deeper appreciation for the process as well as the end result. I can appreciate the "high poetry forms" (particularly as I don't even attempt to write things more complex than sonnets), but I have to say that my first choice with poetry is to enjoy gazing at her beauty. I've had English teachers that killed my ability to do so for a long, long time.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with you that poetry has been abused by English teachers everywhere. Not ALL English teachers, surely, but the ones who do abuse it can be found in almost every district.

I like the analogy of poetry as wine. You can go pretty far with that analogy, too, and stay on track. Sometimes a cheap wine in plastic cups is all you need for a fun picnic, and there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you drink wine just to feel a little buzz. Sometimes you drink it because there's nothing else but water in the house (guilty!). And often, you can take a swallow of a really fine wine quickly, without working to savor it, and you realize, "Hey, this is really good, complex stuff," and so on the second taste, you take your time a bit more.

They way I like to go abut reading a poem is to read it a couple times for the experience and pleasure of it. Then I'll take note of interesting things, sometimes going as far as to do a full explication (as I just did with Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem). But, importantly, that close reading is done with a sense of play and a sense of trying to discover and understand what makes the poem "tick." The goal of a close reading is to allow me to go back and read the poem as if for the first time, only that this time through I see and appreciate its depth and richness so much more.

Good post! Keep loving poetry, and helping others to love it. I'm surprised how many people really do love some poetry already, and want to learn to appreciate it more deeply.

Not-so-Prime Minister said...

So what do you REALLY think? :)

My question, as a recovered poetry lover, is why do you/we/I use all the feminine imagery to describe poetry? Yes, I have discovered that the depth of my appreciation for poetry roughly correlates at any given moment to the depth of my passion for a woman in my life. :)

But yet I wonder if one of the reasons men in particular run from poetry is that it is perceived as oh-so-feminine? Dainty even? All lace and ruffles and unmentionables of the kind that we really don't care to mention. And maybe, if you're right, occasionally some whores and tramps.

Is there anything inherently masculine in poetry, even of the sort of shallow masculinity as defined by our gendered culture? Do heterosexual women who love poetry really think of it as a beautiful woman?

Nean said...

Ah... Mr. Not-so-Prime,

Why do I use female imagery? Maybe for the same reasons that I refuse to make God into strictly a male being...

Your final question intrigues me: "Do heterosexual women who love poetry really think of it as a beautiful woman?" Are you questioning my sexual orientation here? lol... I use female imagery for several reasons:

1. I relate and understand that particular view point for reasons that I assume are fairly obvious.

2. Making poetry male just seems wrong to me. (And yes, that's the second time I've "dissed" the male gender in this comment so I'd like to say, I have no issues with men whatsoever -- in fact, I prefer them :), but society has created a male image that I cannot associate with poetry (or in some aspects of God).

3. C'mon... is ANYONE gonna argue that women are inherently more beautiful than men? :P Women (stereotypically) possess a grace and beauty that men can only hope to someday attain. But I'd also like to posit that the most beautiful of all women also possess a strength, confidence, and intensity that is equal to the power of men.

Just my most humblest opinions, but I felt the need to answer your questions. Yes, a heterosexual woman can and does see poetry as female, and has fallen head over heels in desperately passionate love with her. Sorry if that's a problem for anyone.

So... Are you implying that men are afraid of poetry because they are afraid to get in touch with their feminine side?

Not-so-Prime Minister said...

Regarding your last question in your response: Absolutely! :)