I’m just going to come out and say it: People take poetry too seriously.
So many people I talk to think of poetry as this bougie, intellectual thing that people pretend to like to seem smarter at dinner parties. Poetry is like dry red wine or Ernest Hemingway novels, available everywhere, but you can’t find a single person who genuinely likes it for what it is. Now, I find this absolutely baffling because I actually like poetry. No, I’m not trying to impress anyone or look smarter. I like poetry and I like reading it, but that’s because I have never taken it too seriously.
I think the issue is how we are introduced to poetry. More often than not, a person’s first introduction to poems is in some type of high school class in which a stuffy teacher recites flowery sonnets and then forces the class to write a five page essay on the symbolism and word choices of that poet. It seems like we’re taught from a young age that poetry is this complex, abstract thing that needs to be carefully dissected to be fully understood. It takes effort to enjoy it properly and that is utter bullshit in my opinion.
Poetry is defined as, “the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure.” Basically, poetry is any and every combination of words that you find pleasant. And, as is often the case, you get to decide what you find pleasant and why. It doesn’t take a five page essay and a deep understanding of things like alliteration, symbolism, and rhyming schemes to know that you like the way something sounds or makes you feel.
A few months ago, one of my coworkers found me in my office reading a collection of E.E. Cummings poems. She said something along the lines of, “Wow, you’re so smart. I need to read poetry.” Well, after that, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I have no idea what his poetry is supposed to be about. I just like it because it’s fun to read out loud.
My favorite poem by Cummings is “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town,”
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more
when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream
stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)
one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was
all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.
Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
Read that out loud.
Isn’t it fun? It’s got this rhythm to it. It’s like music.
Do I have any idea what it means? Absolutely not. In my opinion, good poetry is sometimes like pop music. Meaningless and fun, and that’s okay.
On the topic of my favorite poems, some of my favorites aren’t even poems. They’re single lines of text that I found on Twitter or Tumblr or in a novel that just resonated with me. Here are some of my favorites:
“What a blessed if painful thing, this business of being alive.” – Joe Hill
“Do sharks complain about Monday. No. They’re up early, biting stuff, chasing shit, being scary – reminding everyone they’re a fucking shark.” – Tumblr
“What can be done when you’re eleven can often never be done again.” – Stephen King
“Believe in yourself. You are an ancient, absent god, discussed only rarely by literary scholars. So if you don’t believe, no one will.” – Welcome to Nightvale
I love these “mini poems” because they say something deep and profound without burying it underneath a lot of unnecessary prose or rhymes. Straight and to the point while still being lyrical and beautiful. Poetry doesn’t have to be obscure to be well done or pleasant.
Now, I could continue talking about this for a while, but I’m down in Vancouver for work and just finished up a two-day science communication conference. I’m ready for a fucking beer.
“I’m ready for a fucking beer.” Look, a new poem.