My Working (or Not) Relationship With Poetry

Since I’m participating in the Read Harder challenge, I’ve of course been thinking a bit about what books I want to attach to certain tasks. Nothing set in stone, nothing too rigid, but just sorting out a few options to keep in mind when the time comes for me to pick my next read.

The task that I feel is going to be the biggest stretch for me by far is poetry. Not LGBT, not authors of color, or even books about indigenous peoples. Poetry.

I haven’t read poetry since high school, and what I read then was assigned. For years, poetry has signified this totally inaccessible, totally daunting side of publishing that wasn’t going to be for me. It’s filled with weird structures, flowery language, references that’ll fly over my head, and more. Why bother?

Except, I know better. I know that my opinions are completely unfounded, and poetry is as diverse as any other form of expression. My generalizations are akin to brushing off romance as vapid fantasy, YA as shallow, or comics as childish. It’s simply not the case, and this is definitely where committing to reading goals that aim to diversify my/your reading really pays off. It’s forcing me to accept that I can’t just passively let this mental block stay in place, holding a hand up and saying “I’ll think about this another time” every time I consider looking into poetry for my next read.

For times like these, I turn to my fellow Rioters and other trusted pals. When I asked for help, I got it almost immediately in the form of recommendations and reassurances and the realization that I am not alone in this struggle with accepting poetry as anything but inaccessible. I even asked my mom for help, who has been out of the habit of voracious reading for years, though my memories of her when I was a child and even a teen are of her always having a book in hand, and several novels around the house so she was never without if she had idle time. When I asked her what she thought I should do about my “poetry problem,” she gave me two names: José Martí and Maya Angelou. Two culturally important people with messages I’m missing out on.

Sometimes we become daunted by an area of reading for one reason or another, and then we have no idea where to even start in order to give it a fair shake. I’ve been curious about what I’m missing out on by not reading or understanding poetry for years, but I haven’t picked up any actual verse (besides Shakespeare’s Star Wars) in literally years. The Read Harder challenge came at a good time, because my reading life has evolved a great deal in the past few years of my adult life, partially because of the wonderful influence of the people of Book Riot. I’m really going to be able to examine what it is about some genres or types of books I like, or what calls my attention more often, and why I shy away from other genres (or why I might shy away from them in the future).

That being said, if you’ve got any recommendations that you think would be a solid introduction to the world of poetry for little ol’ me, let me have ’em in the comments. I’m also interested in learning about your own reading walls – which genres do you feel are inaccessible, and why? I think reading out of your comfort zone is good every now and again, even if it takes a small amount of hand-holding. Are you going to give it a try this year?

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