Forget the Hard Stuff: This is Why You Should Fall in Love with Poetry

And, more importantly, fall in love with your own poetry. Forget what your English and Creative Writing professors have taught you. (I know they’re reading this, and I’m sorry, but do it.) Learn how to write for you.

Hi, me again. The obnoxious blogger who reminded you why Percy Shelley was still relevant.  Today I’m reminding you why you should want to write poetry. Here’s the simple answer: it’s FUN.

Here’s the long answer:

Of course writing for classes and publication are different than what I’m talking about here, but remember that poetry should be an exploration. Play with form. Play with sound. Play with images. Poetry is great in its very few rules, and, when you are writing solely for your own enjoyment, those rules don’t exist at all.

I’m not talking about writing sappy love poems after you share a first kiss with someone—though absolutely write those too. I’m talking about putting one word after another just to see what happens. So many students seem to forget what makes poetry so exciting. It’s discovering what you can create with words and images. Poetry is fun because it’s short—you can write a poem in two minutes, if you must—but also because it’s so sound-oriented.

Play with words! Make them your own. You never have to show anyone. Play with rhyme scheme and meter. Do it on your own time. Don’t worry about your class assignments. It is so vital for writing majors to practice the art of writing for the sound of it. Listen to the way the words move. Feel the way they move you.

Let’s apply this to (of course), an old dead poet. My favorite. Langston Hughes.

In case you haven’t read it (though what English major hasn’t?), here it is.

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

Forgetting content for a minute—which is incredible in and of itself—let’s look at what makes this a fun read. The first amazing thing about this poem is how natural it sounds—it sounds like conscious thought. The second awesome thing is the rhyme scheme that totally is intentional but totally doesn’t sound intentional. Cool, right?

But writing polished poetry with an important message and cool internal rhyme and proper metre and all these other things does take time, and it can become more cumbersome. Less about the fun. So let’s look at another poem.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought–
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

‘And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Lewis Carroll’s Jaberwocky is a great example of stretching language to find something new. Carroll is the only one to ever use some of these words, and the poem is fun to read.

Be brave; try new things. Push words around on a page. Speak out loud to yourself. Though something good may come of it, know that you can always write something else later. Poetry for a grade is good, but poetry for yourself, and for the enriching and benefiting of your own mind, can sometimes prove more fruitful in the long run. Remember that poetry shouldn’t be a chore, but something you want to pursue! Remember that you can write poetry for you!

That rhymed. Guess I’m a poet too!



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