Finding a Way Into Poetry

One of the best parts in yesterday’s inauguration was Amanda Gorman, our youngest poet laureate, reading her poem written for the day. She has a book of poems coming out, if you want more from her.

With her performance I’m thinking a lot about poetry. Also, yesterday I finished looking at edit notes for the final Edda in the Thule collection. Eddas are a Norse form of storytelling and span the range from prose to poetry. This last one I created is in the form of a poem.

A friend told me that I was lucky I got poetry. At first I didn’t understand what she meant, but it boiled down to the idea that she didn’t enjoy reading it. She found Amanda Gorman’s rhetorical style and reading enjoyable, but not the silent reading of poetry in general. Another member of my writers group said of poetry, “I always skip poems in books.”

There it is. The weird place that poetry holds in our language.

In general poetry comes from an oral tradition, so it is meant to be spoken. Its form on the page is meant to tell you where you pause and how you emphasize the words. The form and the punctuation are the diacritical marks of the form. So reading poetry in many cases is just like reading plays: it’s fun, but there is a whole other level that you are missing when you read it silently.

Unfortunately poetry is often read by poets instead of actors. And poets are often not trained in performance. For a rich experience search in youtube for poetry read by actors, like this one produced by the BBC.

There is a category of poems that are meant to be read on the page, where you will lose something if you do not see it. These are poems wedded to art instead of music and performance. I love these as well, of course. In fact, I found these more approachable in my first experiences of poetry, like this one from Alice in Wonderland.

Most are both visual and auditory in a magical way. Poetry is filled with depth. It is more like art or music than it is like story alone (though it often has story as well). So if you find it difficult to find your way into, my recommendation is to abandon the printed page of poetry and find your way in through the great performances. Then let the words seep into your soul and work their magic.

I hope your life is filled to the brim with art, music, story, and poetry. Be well, friends.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Wholeheartedly agree! Poetry is best read aloud, but I always feel that if you are going to read poetry silently (or write it) you need to be in a space to match to fully enjoy: a Colorado Mt. for nature poetry, a cheap cafe in Memphis TN for unrequited love poetry, a busy street corner next to T**** Tower in Chicago for political dissident poetry… you get the picture.

  2. Priscilla says:

    Stuart reads to me daily and I have learned to appreciate the poetry he reads. I read fast and don’t hear words as I read. There is no way I could have read poetry to myself. At the
    moment we are reading Walcott’s Omeros for the third time.

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