The Power of Poetry

I often commiserate with others about avoiding poetry. A lot of poems seem so obscure. It’s like staring at an abstract modern painting and trying to decide what it means. I can feel some ultra intellectual snob looking over my shoulder in a condescending way, exhaling a long exasperated sigh at my cluelessness.

But if I step back from my fear of being seen as a rube, I can conjure up lots of moments in my life when poetry has brought me a joy that no other form of writing can.

Poetry: Delicious Language

In my early phase, I was taken with the language of poetry. The first poem I remember loving is T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The first few lines enthralled me:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized on a table.

I was fascinated with the etherized patient. “Ether” was a tantalizing image for me when I was a child – resulting in many, many readings of Curious George Goes to the Hospital. And an eternal love for this poem.

Poetry: The Glee of Rule-Breaking

Another early favorite was e e cummings. I think I may have liked him because he
didn’t use capital letters
or periods
what a rebel

Poetry: The Outpouring of Emotion

As I grew, I became more enamored of the romance, the emotional sway of poetry. Adrienne Rich became a favorite. As in her Twenty-One Love Poems, II:

and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

Poetry: The Connection of Sharing

As a young mother I delighted in the communal nature of poetry. Especially silly poetry that I would read aloud to my girls, sending us all into gales of laughter. Here are a few lines from Shel Silverstein’s Ridiculous Rose:

Her mama said, “Don’t eat with your fingers.”
“OK,” said Ridiculous Rose,
So she ate with her toes.

Poetry: The Expression of Social Commentary

As the mother of teenagers and young adults, I have spent many hours in the car listening to the social commentary of rap. Though I don’t always admire the lyrics, I love the rhythms of Eminem, JZ, and Pitbull. And one the very first rap songs to grab me seems worlds ago now but I still like it – The Crown by Gary Byrd and the GB Experience

Next time you feel like you’re in a rut
Go see the mighty kingdom of King Tut.
It will blow your mind, no doubt, it’s true
‘Cause, guess what, King Tut looks just like you.

Of course, social commentary is not new to this century. Emily Dickinson wrote over a hundred years ago:

They shut me up in Prose –
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet –
Because they liked me “still”

Poetry: Find What is Powerful For You

When I went to college, I told my Chinese-American roommate that I didn’t like Chinese food. I didn’t understand (but I later learned) that this is like saying I don’t like food. That’s how many Chinese dishes there are. So, too, with poetry. There is something out there for everyone.

Share your favorite poems and experiences of reading poetry!

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