Friday, February 26, 2010

Getting Over It

I'll begin this post by saying that I'm not one of those people who "gets" poetry.  It comes down to this: most poetry just intimidates the beesneezes out of me.  For starters, you have to keep track of all those poetic devices and rules: rhythm, rhyme, form... the overall musicality of the words.  Then there are all those little things to consider: character, voice, metaphor, imagery.  And you only get a handful of words to accomplish all this and pull it off in such a way that doesn't stink.

Then there's the additional problem of how poetry often intersects with pretension.  Sure, not all poetry is hoity-toity, intellectual-with-a-capital-I, but it's a lot easier to sound smart when you analyze poetry than it is, say, when you discuss sci-fi YA thriller.  With poetry you can use fancy terms like "post-modern" or "onomatopoeia" and be embraced by other verse lovers.  Try doing a post-modern analysis of a picture book and you'll get a lot of eye-rolls.  In short, poetry lets you get away with acting literary.

This reminds me of the poetry unit we did in high school.  My English teacher--a brilliant woman who made my college professors look like wimps by comparison--relied on Socratic method so if she called on you, you'd better have something smart to say or you were toast.  If our analysis of the assigned text was not up to snuff, she'd pace around the room shaking her head and muttering "pearls to swine... pearls to swine..."  And every time she was about to say something truly ingenious and life-changing, she would rap her bony knuckles on the blackboard and say "Ladies.  Pearls of wisdom are spewing from my lips.  Write them down!"

Which brings me to the point of this post: lately, I've also become oddly obsessed with poetry.  I've been reading it compulsively (which I never did before) and even--dare I say it?--trying my hand at it a little.  I know that nothing good will come of this clandestine love affair with language, but I keep at it all the same.  It's kind of like watching a scary movie... I know it's going to make me scream, but I can't bring myself to switch the channel.

I'm sure you're wondering what has made me reconsider my aversion to verse.  That's easy.  It was this poem: Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins.

I'm not going to beat poems with stick until they bleed meaning and metaphor.  While I'm at it, I'll stop taking poetry and literature and myself SO seriously.  I'm going to have a little fun.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like as smart and beloved as your English teacher is to you she is actually part of the problem: she put too much pressure on ya'll to sound smart instead of, say, being appreciative of or affected by the simple beauty of words. Something doesn't have to be hard to be meaningful.