Poetry connects us all, providing an intimate view of different cultures and places. It offers insight into human experiences in an increasingly polarized and individualized world. Unfortunately, not everyone takes advantage of this art form. We could all benefit from more poetry in our lives.
“The dirty secret of poetry,” according to William Logan, English professor and poet at the University of Florida, “is that it is loved by some, loathed by many and bought by almost no one.”
As the proverb goes, brevity is the soul of wit. Some poems, like “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams, are under ten lines, yet express so much that a short story or novel can’t. At their simplest, poems engage all of our senses, help us understand the complexities of life and death and make us better readers.
“Every good poem grapples with some essential piece of human experience,” said Molly Worthen, author and assistant professor of history at UNC, Chapel Hill. “It’s time for us to show we care about words again, to rebuild our connection to a human civilization so much broader than our Twitter feeds.”
Currently, more than 100 Boise State students are enrolled in eight sections of poetry, ranging from beginning to advanced levels. Several graduate courses are also offered.
“I think poetry provides a different version of reality and forces people to look at the world differently,” said Megan Pearson, a senior creative writing major with an emphasis on poetry, adding, “Poetry doesn’t have to be understood to create a feeling or an experience.”
As readers, we want meaning immediately, but the poet challenges us to be patient and appreciate symbols, language, sound and rhythm in new ways. Many Modernist poets, for example, focused on sensations over direct meaning.
Pearson explained that poetry is one place where writers can “express emotion without being so personal that it has to be a confession.”
“Typically people are interested in reading what I write,” Brogan Andrews, a senior English literature major, said of her work. “Or I get those people who say they dislike poetry because it is too difficult to understand or too indirect.”
One place where poetry is not so obscure is in song. Both Pearson and Andrews agreed there is a lot of poetry in song lyrics without listeners realizing it. For example, in Bob Dylan’s songs, but also Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade,” which included many verses of spoken word poetry from the poet Warsan Shire.
“Poetry is dealing with issues like transgender identity, racial identity and social justice in ways that are both moving and informative, while still giving us the lyrical component that poetry is known for,” according to Janet Holmes, Boise State professor and director and editor of the University’s Ahsahta Press.
Holmes went on to say, “In a creative writing course, students in a workshop learn to give and receive pertinent criticism (and praise) for their writing.”
Poetry also thrives outside the University. Last February, U.S. Poet Laureate John Felipe Herrera visited Boise and read his poetry at The Egyptian Theatre, commenting on poetry as a tool of political response and a way for minority voices to be heard.
At Rediscovered Books downtown, people get involved by entering poetry contests, attending book clubs and hearing local authors speak every Monday night. At its most recent event, the poets Lydia Havens, Jonathan Schoenfelder and Tyler Brewington read excerpts from their work and spoke of their craft. Havens encouraged young writers to participate in open mic readings and poetry festivals like Death Rattle, which takes place this weekend.
Havens also said the Internet has truly democratized poetry, for better or worse, and has given rise to Instagram and Twitter poets, proving that anyone with a phone can become a poet.
Another project, Poetry in Motion, was created by The Poetry Society of America and displayed poems inside subway cars in New York City. Launched in 1992, the project has grown to include transit systems of twenty U.S. cities, giving passengers the chance to engage with poems from well-known or up-and-coming writers.
“Poetry teaches us to wrestle with and simplify complexity,” John Coleman wrote in the Harvard Business Review, explaining that poetry helps, “develop a more acute sense of empathy… develop creativity… [and]infuse life with beauty and meaning.”
Wondering where to begin? Borrow an anthology, which lists poems by period, topic or theme. Want to ease yourself into reading poetry? Visit poets.org, where you can subscribe to the “Poem-a-Day.” Don’t like Proust? Read Frost or Ginsberg instead. Take a class, talk to others or even try writing your own poems when inspiration strikes.
Pearson said she would love to see poems published in the newspaper, as it “could give the community a good example of the wide genres that exist within poetry.”
Why not start today?