I know, I know — theoretically, we all love, love, love poetry! We love it so much, in fact, that we never read it! Or am I judging everyone by myself (I think psychologists call this phenomenon “projection”!). I pretty much skip reviews of modern poetry collections and become positively indignant when the NY Times Book Review devotes an entire issue (once a year, I believe) to poetry; I immediately click away to something else if my internet journey takes me, by mistake, to a poetry site, and yet ….. it wasn’t always so. When I was a kid, I loved poetry, read tons of it and can still recite bits and pieces of my favorites by heart. I even composed quite a bit of bad poetry myself, teenagey angst-filled stuff handwritten in a grubby little notebook, which was thankfully lost in one of my many moves (there were some advantages to living in a pre-computer age — no backup files!). Admittedly, my taste (not to mention my work product) was pretty pedestrian but it was heartfelt; poetry meant something to me and I thought it should matter to everyone else. But then, in my mid-twenties, I just stopped reading and (thankfully) writing the stuff.
I think several factors led me away from poetry. Foremost, as it usually is, was “life itself” — things got busy, there were jobs and husbands to get and lose, journeys to take and places to visit, degrees to earn — well, I’m sure you get the picture. As I got older, I took to reading different kinds of literature, switching from non-fiction and poetry to a heavy diet of contemporary and classical fiction. Then, most poetry is hard; it needs to be read with care and attention (no skimming!), with the meaning slowly teased out over time and from repeated readings; quite simply, I think I just didn’t have the intellectual energy to deal with it. Last, but far from least, when I tried venturing back into poetry at various points over the years, it seemed as though poetry had moved on and that contemporary poets were writing in a language I literally didn’t understand and didn’t much like.
So — where do I stand now vis à vis this oldest of all the arts? In the last few years, I have begun to realize how much poorer my reading life is without at least a little poetry in it. Very, very tentatively I’ve returned to reading a few old favorites and I’ve actually dipped a toe into modern waters and tried the work of a few new poets (Jane Hirshfield is a favorite. If things aren’t going quite your way, try her “Three-Legged Blues.” If that doesn’t give you a little perspective on the doldrums, you probably need some serious professional help). I pay at least token homage to poetry: every April, I buy a book of poetry; I still give shelf space to the remnants of my poetry collection and I keep a skinny little file of poems that catch my eye now and again. And, this year, I’m writing this blog post! For ideas far more creative than mine on how to make your life a little more poetic, check out these suggestions from the Academy of American Poets.
Are there any other former poetry addicts out there who’ve gone cold turkey, in a way similar to me? Or better yet, or there any avid poetry readers who’d share their thoughts on what poetry means to you or how you’ve incorporated poetry into your life?