When I was a teenager, I never really got poetry. It seemed like all poetry was just long, winding, flowery verses that only confused me rather than entertained me. I never read the poetry of my own accord, but I hated the poetry section in every English syllabus. It felt like the author deliberately made their message extra difficult to understand.
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If you feel this way too, it’s understandable. Poetry is hard. It’s usually written by someone from the 18th century, uses big complicated words, and never seems to get to the point. Sometimes it feels like poems only exist to mine quotable phrases from – not to understand in its entirety.
Reasons Why To Love Poetry
But poetry can be very enjoyable – if you know what to look for. Here’s a rundown of the aspects of poetry that make it stand out from boring old prose and a few tips for reading poems and finding poems you’d like to read. Without further ado, let’s get started!
1. Poetry Is Good When It’s… Complex.
I know, I know. I’ve read Shakespeare‘s sonnets and Wordsworth’s nature poetry many times and not understood a word. It feels almost rigged when a poem is so complex that it doesn’t make sense. This can be especially hard for readers for whom English is their second language. Poetry’s complexity is not by accident, though – it’s a part of its very design.
There are a number of reasons why poems can be so complex. Sometimes, it’s because of strict adherence to rhyme and meter, as was the case in Shakespearean times. (Rhyme refers to words that sound similar to one another in a set pattern, and a meter is a strict number of syllables each line is allowed to contain).
Poems try to compress a large amount of information into a few words, which can make a line more complex. Things that need to be explained in entire paragraphs in prose can be captured in a few lines of poetry because of this. This is what makes poetry so quotable too! The use of poetic devices like imagery, conceit, hyperbole, and so on can be confusing because they are often not meant to be taken literally.
While the complexity can be off-putting, it’s also what makes poetry great. Poetry is all about presenting familiar scenes and thoughts in a new and memorable way. It requires a bit of patience because you need to sit down and decode what the poet is saying. But this process of ‘working’ towards a mean gives a greater sense of satisfaction when you fully absorb the poem. Poetry is not meant to be read fast like prose; it is meant to savor, like a small but layered dessert.
2. Poetry Is Good When It’s… Relatable.
Let’s face it; some poems have a greater impact on us than other poems. Most of the time, the poems we can relate to the most are the ones that stick in our minds the longest. So it’s important to read poetry that you feel personally connected to in order to enjoy it.
This is a common problem in a country like India, where we were taught for years that only certain poetry is worthy of praise. British education highlighted and enshrined only certain poets like Shakespeare and Wordsworth. These poets were writing for an English audience that had similar environments and knowledge of social customs. Plus, they wrote for an English society that is very far back in the past by today’s standards.
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Trying to read poems from poets you can’t relate to at all isn’t the way to enjoy poetry. Poetry can be very enjoyable when reading relatively modern poets who have lived through similar struggles and challenges as you. However, poetry is also very universal and can continue to resonate centuries after it was created. This is why poets like Kabir and Rumi are still read today!
All that matters is what kind of poetry truly resonates with you at the end of the day. Once you figure this out, there are dedicated anthologies that compile certain types of poems for you to check out. Be patient and hang in there! In the meantime, try picking up a book of poetry at the bookstore or follow a couple of poets on Instagram.
3. Poetry Is Good When It’s… Saying Something Important.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have anything against people like Gabbi Hanna or Rupi Kaur. But there’s a reason why a lot of their poetry feels so shallow. Take a look at this poem from Gabbi Hanna’s collection, for example:
In this poem, Gabbi tries to pun on the different ways in which the word ‘relative’ is used. But ultimately, it doesn’t really say anything about any of the subjects it touches upon. It doesn’t think about the nature of time, stops investigating how we see beauty, or has any important anecdotes on the family. This poem isn’t alluding to any important meaning and, therefore, falls flat.
This is why a poem like Daffodils by Wordsworth is still enjoyable, centuries after it was written. On the surface level, the poet sees a field of daffodils and is arrested by its beauty. On a deeper level, it could be about stopping to smell the roses and appreciating the natural world around us instead of getting carried away by our fast-paced industrial lives. We continue to have this concern in our day and age, and Wordsworth’s poem lets us feel connected to people who lived centuries before us with the same concerns.
Poetry can also be a great tool for activism. Poets like Audre Lorde and Maya Angelou have written about the African American experience and drawn attention to the many instances of discrimination and violence that Black people all over America continue to face. In India, poems written by Dalit or tribal authors can help mainstream society understand the challenges these marginalized groups face every day.
So, are you convinced to give poetry a try again? Poetry is considered to be the highest literary genre. No matter the country or the language, every culture in the world has tried to pack the human condition into lines of verse. Every song you’ve ever listened to is a poem in a way. Poetry is all around you. All you have to do is open your heart to it.
A final year law student from Chennai with an interest in policy, debate, and dogs.