Poetry–that highbrow, stuffy stuff from hundreds of years ago–or is it that stuff that all the emo kids write? Poetry is both, and neither. Sure, poetry spans Byron, Shakespeare, Rumi, your high school classmates. It’s a means of expression–putting restrictions around words, having to choose every single word carefully, implying meaning, evoking emotion. If poetry isn’t normally your jam, try looking at it through some of these lenses.
Pop-culture and current events
For many people, poetry gives them a voice to discuss current events controversial topics, and to advocate for change. Remember, rap and song lyrics are also a form of poetry. You could simply remove the music from your favorite song, read the lyrics, and voila! You’ve read a poem. Check out social media. “Insta-poets”–people who publish their poetry on Instagram–are becoming major sensations. Tumblr is a major outlet for poets to put out their work. Of course, some of the work out there might be pretty shoddy, but a quick search can lea you to find the poets who are most popular, or vetted, award-winning poets who also publish on social media.
Poetry by people you’d never expect to write it
Did you know that dictators and tyrants famously love to write poetry? If you want to read some really intriguing stuff, check out some of these guys! The ancient Roman emperor Nero is the classic example of this. He was a vengeful, despotic ruler who loved to write self-pitying poetry. Stalin’s flowery, almost cliche poems were published in prestigious literary journals. Osama Bin Laden was a celebrated jihadi poet. Mussolini and Mao Zedong also wrote poetry. Mao’s lines went something like this: “Man’s world is mutable, seas become mulberry fields.” In addition to being a bizarre phenomenon, reading poetry by tyrants is food for thought. The beautiful language often contrasts with their violent actions, but sometimes it turns into propaganda for their causes.
The right place to read
Sometimes, you just need to read a poem (or a book, or listen to a song) in the right environment. That environment is often not your high school lit classroom (although that classroom probably gave you the tools to appreciate poetry). Next time you hear the sound of rain on the roof, read Langston Hughes’ “April Rain Song.” It’s a short piece, but it encapsulates a rainy day in a touching way. If you’re on a hike or a vacation to a place with a beautiful landscape, try out some of the Romantic poets. Sure, their work can be a little sappy, but who doesn’t feel a little sappy looking out at the ocean or a beautiful field?
If reading poetry is still a little bizarre for you, try going to a poetry slam or a night of readings. You can find these at universities, coffee shops, or through local arts groups. Sometimes it helps to hear a poem spoken aloud by the author or by a professional interpreter.
Your own poetry
Sometimes, participating in an art form is the best way to develop an appreciation for it. The next time you’re feeling especially uplifted, or blue, write it down. Just use three words. Look out the window and describe what you see and how it makes you feel. Try to do a simple rhyme scheme, or a haiku, or even just limit how many words you can use to express yourself. These are all ways to write poetry. If you are a musician, try setting a poem to music. Pitch, volume, rhythm, and tempo can completely change the meaning of a set of words. How many different meanings can you give a line of poetry, just by changing up a melody?