Poetry overall tends to have a reputation as being overwhelming, dense, hard to understand, and highly intellectual, and much of that stems from how many people’s only experiences with poetry are in educational settings where the poems are written with antiquated language, and the reading experience is one solely based on analysis. Since April is National Poetry Month, and all across the US, there are events and readings held to celebrate poets and lovers of poetry, I wanted to talk about how reading poetry can be enjoyable outside of academia.
For starters, poetry as an art form is incredibly diverse. Because poetry is a much older storytelling device than fiction that can be found in almost every culture around the world, it’s a way to learn about history and folklore from all parts of the globe! Even in America today, poets of color, poets of different sexualities and gender identities, and poets with disabilities or mental illnesses are gaining more and more recognition, as poetry is something that allows them to tell their stories the same way people all over the world have for thousands of years with as many restrictions or creative liberties as they would like.
For those who may not know where to start when reading poetry, spoken word or slam poetry is probably the most accessible since the language tends to be more colloquial and you can listen to the poet read their work with the intended tone and inflections, making it easier to understand. Button Poetry is a great resource for finding spoken word poets to listen to, and many poets have been able to publish physical collections of their poems through them as well.
Contemporary poets also tend to write in more familiar language, describing the good and the bad of the world around us through the minute details comprising human experience. I find poets like Mary Oliver or Ada Limón to be easily digestible due to their conversational tone and the vivid imagery they create with their words, however there are many other poets whose style you may enjoy more.
Part of the beauty of poetry is its subjectivity. If you don’t like the work of one poet, don’t give up on poetry completely. Poetry.org is a great free resource to browse the work of a multitude of amazing poets, some you may have learned about in the past and many you may have never heard of. With so much poetry at your fingertips, I encourage you to give reading poetry a second chance!