On poetry – Part 1: Why we need to read and write poetry to fully appreciate it

I love poetry. I love reading poetry, both out loud and in my head, and I like to read all different kinds of poetry, from free verse to sonnets, to sestinas, villanelles and so on. I love to read poetry from all kinds of different poets, from different parts of the world and different times. I also love to write poetry, and likewise, I love to write within all kinds of different poetic structures, different themes, different mindsets.

It hasn’t always been this way, though. I haven’t always loved poetry. In fact, for much of my high school and university life, I loathed poetry. It infuriated me, and mostly because it made me feel stupid. I didn’t feel like I understood it. I didn’t perform very well at poetry based assignments, especially in university where I had a couple of lecturers and tutors who seemed almost pretentious with their narrow-minded views on poetry, and so I found myself put off the form of expression almost entirely.

I think for me the turn around came when I had a particularly nice lecturer who encouraged me and guided me in my poetry writing, showing me towards more complex forms and helping me to gain a grasp of them. One of the problems with poetry is that at high school it is usually read and analysed more than it is practised. Not only that, but in my high school experience, poetic form and structure was barely taught at all. Sure, iambic pentameter might have been briefly explained, but in terms of actual poetic forms, I perhaps learnt about the sonnet, the haiku, the acrostic poem, and free verse, and we very rarely got a chance to write any of our own. I think this is a major problem, not just for me, but for many of potential poets everywhere.

For a start, my understanding and appreciation of poetry only came when I learned about the processes of writing it by doing just this – writing poetry. Secondly, I appreciated it more when I discovered all the other forms of poetry, such as villanelles, sestinas, odes, pantoums, heroic couplets – the list goes on. I was never introduced to any of these forms in high school – it simply isn’t in the curriculum. But it should be, because once I realised just how big and beautiful the world of poetry was, my attitude to it changed immensely. Not only that, but learning to write it within these structures gave me a set of rules I could work with, which, rather than acting as limitations, acted as guidance to help me master the craft. I think many students the world over would actually enjoy poetry a whole lot more if they had been introduced to these forms at a much younger age, and given the opportunity to try and write their own poetry in these more traditional ways.

I am a firm believer that when it comes to poetry, reading it and writing it go hand in hand. You cannot write good poetry without reading good poetry, and you cannot fully appreciate reading good poetry until you have started to write poetry yourself. It takes time to reach this point, I’ll admit, but it is quite enlightening and enjoyable once you get there.

In Part 2 (which will appear online tomorrow morning), I’ll look at three particular books that help to understand the basics of poetry, both reading and writing it, and which also contain some of the best poetry to read and gain an appreciation for the art form.

In the meantime, what are your feelings towards poetry on the whole? Have they changed over time?

11 thoughts on “On poetry – Part 1: Why we need to read and write poetry to fully appreciate it

  1. To me, poetry is like art work in a museum. There’s some I really like and some I loathe and want to mock. I’ve never considered myself a poet by any stretch of the imagination, but on very rare occasions I burst into poetry. Something in my brain just leaps to the page in iambic pentameter, or some such thing, and I have no idea where it came from. While delving into native spiritualism for my teen novels, I was overwhelmed by the emotional aspects of the sweat lodge experience and the sharing circles and found myself, some time later, creating three poems that reflected my feelings about those experiences. It seemed to be the best medium to express myself. I realize that is probably why poets perfect their craft. It is a very personal, emotional experience, a way of expressing themselves, of releasing whatever has pent up inside them, to heal themselves or let out the joy of life.

    • Well said! I definitely agree – I think poetry is often the most personal, emotional and intimate of the forms of written expression. A lot of people only write poetry for themselves, not to show anybody else, yet they still work hard at it. Like you, I have had times where poetry just seems to be the best way to put feelings onto a page.

  2. Being a poet myself, I know exactly what you mean. It’s true that only those who write poetry can enjoy the experience of reading poetry. They find a whole new depth and meaning when they read poems because they can see it in a kind of way that the poet would have wanted. Like mentioned in the previous comments, I write poems as a way of letting out or expressing my emotions. But I don’t know much about the poetic structures or styles that you mentioned about, though I’d love to learn more about it! 🙂 Great post, anyway!

  3. I am still at the stage where I don’t really know what to do with poetry. I agree that it is a read-write thing and actually when I was very young it was my favorite medium- my father would read my the rime of the ancient mariner before I went to bed. But somewhere around the point where my english teacher almost made me hate shakespeare, I lost my love for it, and I’m still trying to find a way back. Maybe a need a nice teacher too! 🙂

    • Yep, I think the way poetry is studied in high schools all around the world is often the thing that kills people’s love for poetry, and it certainly was for me. Quite possibly you do need a nice teacher to help guide you back! Probably finding a couple of poets or books of poetry to enjoy reading might help, as well.
      I actually intend on writing a Part 3 and 4 and so on with this poetry post, in which I will go into particular forms and things. I just need to be in the right frame of mind to write them, that’s all. But I know with some people that just opening them up to new forms has been enough to spark an interest in it again.
      Anyway, I hope you do find your way back to poetry, because I have this distinct feeling you’d be very good at it, actually! 🙂

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  5. I think that I like to write poetry on occasion. In my younger years, I really enjoyed Elizabeth Barret Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?…” I, also, enjoyed Rod McKuen’s poetry; I still have the vinyls I purchased long ago.
    I’ve tried my own hand at poetry when I was in a melancholy mood. Your writing has gotten me thinking. Perhaps again I shall try.

    • I know what you mean, even I must admit although I like writing poetry I don’t do it as consistently as other forms of writing. I haven’t written much poetry these last few months, so I am quite excited (and a touch nervous) about writing so much over the next month. But it should be fun. And I happen to be rather melancholy of late, which is convenient!
      Definitely try again, I think it is always a better experience than you expect, sitting down and writing poetry. 🙂

  6. Pingback: On Poetry – Part 5: Comic Verse – The Limerick, The Cento, and The Clerihew | wantoncreation

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