Not Poetry

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Friday, August 13, 2010

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”–Not Poetry

Most people shudder when they hear the word poetry. It causes them to cry out, tear out whatever hair they’ve got left and run for the hills, but this discomfort is shortsighted. In fact, most people encounter poetry on a regular basis whether they enjoyed nursery rhymes and Dr. Suess or song lyrics (one of its subcategories, rap, is considered poetry by some). People must realize that poetry is not some esoteric abstraction, but something deeply engrained in the everyday fabric of our lives; therefore, reading and enjoying poetry is not about reading the “great” poets, but reading the right poets, the ones that reflect on life and influence the way you think about the world or maybe a poet just captures a moment that makes sense to you. 

Poetry is many things, and as more writers come along it develops an ever richer complexity. It can capture moments, dialogue, and ways of speaking and approaching the world that differ from prose; neither poetry nor prose is necessarily more correct, but both are different. Readers should allow themselves a jaunt into this rich field of words because life is multi-faceted, so why not explore another avenue that embraces this diversity? 

Jumping into poetry can be scary because it is a leap of faith, an unavoidable bout of ignorance that could cause you to swear and shake your fist or (more likely) to close a book of poetry and not pick up another or both, which would be a travesty of the highest order because just as you may have a favorite sport or novelist that took some trial and error to find, you must also discover the right poet for you. Lucky for you, I’ve done some of your dirty work.

To begin, I recommend that you pick up a copy of The Poet’s Corner with selections compiled by John Lithgow. This book offers a quick survey of English speaking poets from different times and with varied writing styles. John Lithgow also offers a brief biography of the poet, and what the selected poems mean to him. I also like it because he includes a short list of other poems he enjoyed by the poet, so you can peruse them at your leisure, and he provides links to recordings of the poets reading their work. John Lithgow is down to earth and sharing something that he loves, so it’s not torturous and condescending—like you may have experienced with an English professor. The end of the book also has a MP3 CD with 50 readings by talented readers, so the poets’ work can really come alive for you. In short, this book is an excellent jumping off point for someone wishing to dabble in the lavishly complex, but equally rewarding world of poetry.

I also recommend that you pick up a copy of Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon, the selected poems of Pablo Neruda. Pablo Neruda originally wrote in Spanish, but his poems are so good that Stephen Mitchell translated them for us, and they still have that WOW factor. I’d heard that Pablo Neruda was good, but I had no idea how good. I’d hardly read much poetry before, but I simply could not put this book down. I don’t want to talk this book up too much, but you may enjoy it. Neruda shapes simple language in such a way that we enjoy the beauty and excitement packed into day-to-day situations. Check it out!

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