Poetry matters

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Poetry matters

April is the Society of American Poets’ National Poetry Month. This month, poets and poetry enthusiasts across the country will celebrate the craft. Unfortunately, poetry does not have the place in today’s society that it once did.

When most people think of poetry, they probably think of a poem written by some long-dead white man which needs to be read multiple times to even begin understanding the poet’s intended meaning. While poets like William Blake, Lord Byron, Walt Whitman and T. S. Eliot have their place, they and poets like them do not even scratch the surface of the richness and variety of modern poetry.

Modern poetry is much more accessible than Blake’s mythological musings or Whitman’s long, rich lines. Most modern poets are more concerned about communicating their meaning to the reader than trying to hide a message in flowery language or complex metaphors.

The goal of poetry is to say something. That something could be a story, a criticism of society or a glimpse inside a poet’s head. Poetry gives a voice to the voiceless. Poetry does not discriminate based on race, religion, gender, sexuality or past experiences. Poetry is a place where such things can be celebrated, where those who have been hurt can voice their frustrations and be comforted by, or give comfort to, those who have experienced something similar.

Because poetry provides such a wide open platform for voices that often go unheard, it is important for us to engage with it. The only way to truly understand a person is to listen to what they have to say. One of the best, and quickest, ways to do this is by reading/watching/listening to poetry. Most poems can be read in about five minutes. The best poems pack power, emotion and a message into this short amount of time. It is one of the reasons why I love poetry. I get just as much, if not more, out of twenty minutes reading or watching poetry than I would from reading a novel or short story.

Unfortunately, poetry can be intimidating to approach for a beginner. It does not have to be. There are so many different styles of poetry about any subject imaginable, I can all guarantee you that there is something out there that you will like.

The best way to begin reading poetry is to read widely. If you have not read much poetry before, you likely won’t have an idea what type of poetry you like. I recommend starting with modern poetry because it is easier for us to understand. A great place to begin is the websites of poetry publications, like Rattle or Poetry Magazine. You could also subscribe to the Academy of American Poets’ poem-a-day email. If you find a poem you like, look up more work by that poet. You may enjoy it.

If reading is not your thing, spoken word poetry’s popularity has risen tremendously with the explosion of the internet. I recommend checking out Button Poetry’s YouTube channel. Again, once you find a poet you like, check out more of their work.

Some of my favorite poets are Sylvia Plath, Neil Hilborn, Hanif Willis-Abduuriqib, Olivia Gatwood and Ariana Brown. You may not like any of these poets, and that’s okay. If you want more recommendations, don’t be afraid to ask your poetry-enthusiast friends. They know better than I do. But the best way to discover the type of poetry is to engage in the wide variety of styles out there.

Poetry matters. The voices it provides a stage for are often drowned out in every other aspect of society. Reading or watching poetry can broaden your perspective, something that today’s Christians do not do enough. Give poetry a chance this month. You might enjoy it.