Why I Read: Poetry

For a time in high school (and very sparingly in college), I considered myself a poet. I think a lot of teens do. We get a fancy looking journal for Christmas (or purposely buy one from Barnes and Noble) and we start writing little four line stanzas in ABAB format “expressing our feelings” and thinking we know what we’re doing.  Even a limited exposure to the world of poetry demonstrates how minuscule what we know actually is, but many teenage poets would just as soon say, “Just write what you feel; form is too restricting.”  Dabbling in sonnets and blank verse proved otherwise for me, but I ultimately fell out of the practice.

Something, however, that hasn’t stopped, due in part to a friend who buys me poetry books for Christmas, is the practice of reading poetry, though I’ll admit up front I don’t read as much as I would like.  Whether it’s the medieval poems of the Sufi mystic Rumi, or the more contemporary likes of Edward Hirsch and Li-Young Lee, poetry has a special place in my heart that appeals to my half-starved romantic side.  It’s nice to sit down and take a poetry book one entry at a time, ruminate on it, and perhaps read some more. There’s no getting to the next page to find out the next part of the story with poetry (unless it’s epic poetry, such as Paradise Lost or The Iliad); you just read one poem at a time.

Most men will read poetry because reciting it leads people to think them intelligent, or, at the very least, to pick up women in bars.  These are horrible reasons to read poetry for either gender, so here’s a couple good reasons to read poetry:

  1. Learning about self-expression. Whether within the confines of Shakespearean Sonnets, or the wild unpredictability of E.E. Cummings free verse, poets express the best and worst of humanity with beauty and grace.
  2. Good for the soul. Some poems I’ve read have, in turn, read me, and left me with an introspection I could not have received with hours of self-reflection and search.  A good poet knows not only to tell you how they feel or think, but to hold up a mirror and show you the same things about yourself.
  3. Learn timeless truths.  I’m a theology student, and I love to read systematic texts and academic writings regarding things like the resurrection and the union of God and Man in Jesus Christ, but the men who articulate such things learned of them not from theologians, but from ancient biographers and poets.   It’s no coincidence that there’s one massive book of poetry in the Bible, and songs and poems throughout to mark special occasions or to teach people to pray.  Poets recognize the truth, and (in the words of Evey from V for Vendetta) use “lies” to tell it.
  4. To sound intelligent and pick up women in bars (OK, not really).

Anyway, go pick up a book of sonnets, or perhaps some free verse. It’s good for you!

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