Poetry and Fear of Commitment

February 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

I really wish I could get you to give poetry a chance. You know who you are. Maybe you do like poetry and don’t even know it! Read this short PBS piece and discover whether you’re already a poetry fan. Maybe all you need is your flames of passion for poetry fanned a bit.

Trust me, I feel your pain when it comes to rhyme schemes and iambic pentameters. I, too, want to cringe when I see a poem takes up more than a single page, is in small type, and has footnotes. Sometimes I think I’d rather play possum and pretend the unwieldy, verbose, and unnecessarily abstruse doesn’t see me if I don’t see it.

My love of poetry is a growing love. I’m not full-on in love or ready to marry poetry, but I know I’d like to keep dating it. Maybe commit to poetry more seriously in the near future, but right now I want to keep it light.

We’ve all had bad relationships and been  burned, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hold out hope for true poetic love! Well, maybe some of us have become jaded or cynical, but keep dating, even if you don’t find true love you’ll make some friends, and deep friendships will last you a lifetime.

Reading poetry is like dating. If it’s a bad poem then move on. Life is too short to waste. However, poetry is like a stranger in that you have to give it a chance! You don’t just ignore everyone you meet because they’re a stranger and have the potential to be the crudest, rudest, and most socially unacceptable person you could bring home to your parents. You meet the poem first, you take it out a few times, and if that book of poetry or that poet and several of his/her poems just don’t work for you then you break it off and move on. The poetry book will get over it. I promise. You meet another poet, another poem, and try again. In the meantime, you can stay friends, or even just be passing acquaintances.

Maybe in grade school or high school you or your teacher (as Billy Collins writes in “Introduction to Poetry”) tried to

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.

But that’s no way to treat a potential date! Who’d respect themselves or the poem after such ungracious and brutal treatment? To get the best out of someone you shake hands, you smile, you listen, you talk, you share, you don’t go pummeling it and beating it and ripping its nose ring out! It’s no wonder you and poetry don’t get along right now! Forgive yourself for the mistreatment and misunderstandings and move forward with a fresh outlook.

Just like dating, we’re not all going to like the same people or poetry. Don’t let other people guilt you into dating Mathilda when you’d rather ask out Rowan. You can be polite and meet Mathilda, but just because your fraternity brother thinks she’s the greatest poet since the last sailor limerick doesn’t mean you have to like her just as much. Maybe shake hands with Mathilda, but if there’s no connection then move on. You’re not responsible for Mathilda’s happiness. Your fraternity brother can have a relationship with her. You go for Rowan if that’s who you want!

Anthologies are a good way to get to briefly know several poets and poems. It’s like speed-dating. If you meet a poem you like then go find some more by that poet, or maybe it’s a theme that you find intriguing so find more poems that touch on the same theme or topic. It’s like having discovered you like green eyes, so you go out and meet green-eyed poems or you discover you really like what Sharon Olds or Ezra Pound has to say, after reading several of their poems, so you ask them out again and find more of their poetry books. If they don’t have any other books or poems to offer you then perhaps you find similar dates.

So, I offer you several anthologies that I’ve found useful in discovering new poetic dates:

The Norton anthology of poetry

Anthology of modern American poetry

World poetry : an anthology of verse from antiquity to our time

Postmodern American poetry : a Norton anthology

And for those of you who need either some pep talk or poetry dating advice I recommend the following books:

The sounds of poetry : a brief guide (Seriously brief guide at only 144 pages)

Songs of ourselves : the uses of poetry in America

Whether it’s a friend or a new love, have fun!

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