Our Reading Lives

Our Reading Lives: Confessions of a Reluctant Poetry Convert

I have a confession to make: I used to hate poetry. Reading poetry is a lot like meditating and I hate that too. I’ve tried it at least a dozen times–in lotus position (my back started to ache), lying on the floor (I fell asleep), and sitting in a chair (I gave up after the sixth verse of “The Song that Never Ends” played in my head). To benefit from meditation you have to fully enter into it. To fully experience poetry you have to slow down enough to let each word sink in, move you, and change your perspective. It takes patience, a virtue I lack entirely. Poetry also scares me a little. It reveals things that are hidden, a thought that both intrigues and terrifies me.

I’ve had brushes with poetry throughout my life. When I was a kid I tried my hand at writing it. The result was less than copacetic, so I switched to prose. In high school I had a friend who wrote poetry on every surface she could find. It was beautiful and I wished I had the heart for it, but no such luck. Two birthdays ago an old friend made me a scrapbook filled with photography, art, quotes, and yes, poetry. Keats, Rilke, Dickinson. The poets were starting to push in on me. I felt a little claustrophobic. I read them and then retreated back into the safety of my usual literary fare.

Emily Dickinson

Six months later that same friend sent me a college literature and art magazine. The offerings therein were certainly not Keats, but they were surprisingly moving and in many ways they communicated more truth than all the facts and figures in all the nonfiction I’d ever read. And now I’m finding that the thing that used to make me antsy quiets the manic in me. Makes me see the things which I always wanted to see but wasn’t brave enough to look at.

I’m far from a poetry addict. Weeks can go by without me picking up either one of my Emily Dickinson collections or seeking out new stuff on the web. Sometimes I make it halfway through a poem before metaphorically chucking the book across the room in frustration, but the door has been opened and that’s something.

I was lucky enough to have a friend who kept sending poetry my way in the faith that eventually it would penetrate my ridiculously thick skull. If you haven’t given poetry a chance, let me be that friend. Pick up a book of poems at your library, Google it, maybe try writing a few verses yourself. Let it wash over you and one day it will click and change the way you see the world. It’s worth it.

I am too along in the world, and not alone enough
To make every minute holy.
I am too tiny in the world, and not tiny enough
Just to lie before you like a thing,
shrewd and secretive.
-Rainer Maria Rilke

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