Next month, April, is National Poetry Month, but today is World Poetry Day. As someone who earned my MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in poetry, this is one of my favorite times of the year. I LOVE poetry. Unfortunately, not everyone does. I see it on the faces of my Comp and Lit students when we move from the fiction section to the poetry section of class. There’s often a fear or a nervousness in their eyes, an apprehension. It is my job to try and change that look, if not to one of adoration like I feel, at least to one of respect and hopefully a little understanding.
What I want them to learn is this: Poetry is for everyone.
As Pamela Spiro Wagner says in her poem “How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual”:
“First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.
Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.”
It is one of the first poems that I bring to the classroom. I want them to see that reading and trying to understand poetry doesn’t mean they have to “torture a confession out of it,” as Billy Collins describes in “Introduction to Poetry.” They can enjoy it for what it is at its core: beautiful words carefully chosen to say something about life. Take this poem, “To Be Alive” by Gregory Orr, for instance, one of my favorites of all time:
“To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That’s crudely put, but…
If we’re not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?”
In many ways, it embodies the spirit of this blog – living a life fully to enjoy adventures, celebrations, travel, friends, family, music, dance, spontaneity. We do not want to be a carcass just sitting behind a desk, going through life’s routines with no passion. We want to feel the spark, the joy and excitement in our lives brought from new experiences.
Poetry is not just some magnificent but sometimes difficult to read verses from Shakespeare or Donne or Yeats, though it is definitely that. It is also contemporary poetry, spoken word, song lyrics, rap, and so much more. It is truth and rhythm and music.
What would our lives be without music? Without dance, poetry, a good book to read, a breathtaking picture or painting, a Broadway show, or a great movie to watch? I hope I never have to know. The world is made up of many kinds, business people, scientists, builders, creatives, and so many more. Let us all take the time to enjoy our lives, to turn the music up a little louder, to let loose and dance even if just at home, to sing in the shower, to read a great book on a blanket in the sunshine or cuddled up on a cozy sofa by the fire, to see a show, to support the arts, to save the NEA. Because what is a life without beauty?