Poetry has always intimidated me. Correction: formally presented poetry has always intimidated me.
I wasn’t afraid when I read Shel Silverstein or Bruce Lansky as a kid. Rhyming was fun, and that was all I needed to know. As I grew older, I stumbled across poems by Robert Frost and Arthur O’Shaugnessy, and they sounded nice to me. As a teenager, I was drawn to the pure rhythmic power of Poe’s poetry without consideration for what place it officially held in the entire poetic canon.
But when I started to study poetry in college, I found myself faltering. Shakespeare vs. Donne; Dante vs. Petrarch; T.S. Eliot vs. e.e. cummings. Great names all, but unlike in fiction, I felt I had no intellectual basis or experience from which to judge their poetic work. Golden and mudware words alike began to blur together, and I could no longer determine whether they actually “sounded nice” to me. I took note of who was famous for their poetry without garnering personal opinion on their work. Verse, meter, prosody; these were foreign terms which outlined and confirmed my ignorance. Poetry was a language I couldn’t speak, and an area of literature I felt wise to inch away from.
Thankfully, I began to attend poetry seminars held at BU’s Mugar library. I was given packets with the works of Czeslaw Milosz and William Carlos Williams. I barely understood the comments offered by some of the attendees. But I soon relaxed when I realized no one expected me to. They just expected me to think critically, and, if I felt like it, to share my thoughts.
That’s when I realized poetry could be an acquired taste, particularly when faced with the Modernists or the English Renaissance. But it could also be wildly accessible, as in the form of spoken word and slam. Poetry is versatile; it refuses to be pinned down into a manageable or even definable art form. It’s not just for stuffed shirts or children: it’s for whoever appreciates the music of words.
That being said, I’ve decided to celebrate National Poetry Month by deliberately exploring some old works I’ve enjoyed, and finding some new ones as well. But I need some help. If you know any good poems that would help bolster the unsteady foundations of my education, please suggest them!