Why Read Poetry? A Furious Reader Investigates

National Poetry Month is back again! April is a fantastic month to explore poetry, a genre that is often overlooked because the structure and history of poetry can be a bit, well, overwhelming. But the warmer weather and the promise of spring reminds us that anything is possible - even reading poetry. 

Remember those school moments when you had to “analyze” a piece of poetry and you left the classroom feeling more confused than ever? It was a moment I always dreaded because I struggled to understand the poetry terminology and, after reading the poem multiple times, still had no idea what the author was trying to say. Then, as all these stories tend to go, I had an amazing teacher who demystified the process for us.

First, this teacher introduced us to Billy Collins’s poem “Introduction to Poetry,” which is bitingly true (and helpful!) in trying to figure out what a poem means. It also introduced me to one of my favorite lines in poetry:

“But all they want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with rope

and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose

to find out what it really means.”

“Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins, courtesy of Poetry Foundation

That’s always how it feels, doesn’t it? We have to torture the poem - and ourselves - into telling us its meaning. Instead of treating it like the process of discovery. The minute I learned that no one was going to judge me for getting the meaning of a poem "wrong" and that I held the magic to understand the poem, the process got a bit easier. 

After introducing us to the “Introduction of Poetry,” this same teacher asked us to explore different poetry books and bring back the ones that we enjoyed reading. That’s it - no analysis, no report. Just bring in your favorites. Renewed and inspired, I remember having a great number that I enjoyed, but the one that sticks out to me is “Constantly Risking Absurdity” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti which is how I felt at the time trying to figure out what kind of reader and writer I wanted to be:

“Constantly risking absurdity

                                             and death

            whenever he performs

                                        above the heads

                                                            of his audience

   the poet like an acrobat

                                 climbs on rime

                                          to a high wire of his own making”

“Constantly Risking Absurdity” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, courtesy of Poetry Foundation

That particular poem ends with the image of “a little charleychaplin man” and that line - and the notion that you can just play with spacing and words - set me on a journey to appreciate poetry. 

It wasn’t always a smooth sailing journey. I attempted to write poetry as a young student and all I could come up with was it had to rhyme. So I stuck to fiction and used my appreciation of poetry to play with form and syntax in my short stories. 

In short: you don’t have to just write poetry to appreciate it.

Reading poetry is a gift that you can keep in your pocket, perfect for any mood or moment. 

Reading poetry is a party trick that you can bring out to impress your friends. The only poem I ever memorized is “The Mending Wall” by Robert Frost (this page also includes a reading guide - BONUS!) and you can bet I recite this any chance I get.

Reading poetry is a beautiful way to start or end your day. 

Reading poetry is an opportunity to challenge yourself.

This month we at Read Furiously want to share our poetry experiences and journey with you, so that you can embark on your own month of discovery. We are so excited to take this journey with you, Furious Readers. Onward! 

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