Why read poetry?

I have read a bunch of poetry over the years. Why? I don’t really know for sure. Perhaps it is the whole idea of painting a little picture of a moment in time or a feeling has an appeal to me. Perhaps it is ‘cause when I read a good poem it is like having an insight into genius, I love to be amazed at how someone could describe, so succinctly an experience I have had. Perhaps it is ‘cause I grew up in Ireland, that poetic place where poetry and the Irish identity seems to have a unique living history.

But, in all honesty I have struggled at times to keep on reading. So much poetry is rubbish. I have struggled through poems that seem to me senseless. They make me feel like I am missing something obvious, that I am just not smart enough to ‘get it’. Those poems are either not for me or in reality don’t make sense, like the poet tried too hard to be clever or artsy but end up talking gibberish.

I have also struggled through poems that are overly sentimental. With lots of hearts and souls, but are uncomfortable to read. Poorly written, clichéd, trite, obvious, like the poet learned to string poetic sounding words together without being ‘real’ (I am particularly sensitive to this criticism because I admit to have written many of this type of terrible poetry in my time ;)

But in recent years I have found poets that are brilliant, insightful and can capture reality so perfectly it makes you sigh to read their work. It is like watching a 5 star movie like Gladiator or Pride and Prejudice. You can identify with the words or concept so easily it is a pleasure to read. I have found poets that write poems that are accessible to regular people, poets that seem to not be trying too hard to be someone they are not, that are authentic and insightful: Billy Collins, Claudia Emersen, B H Fairchild, Charles Simic, Ted Kooser, to name a few.

When I read poems by these poets the world slows for a minute. I can see how important the details of life are. Reading accessible, clever poems helps me appreciate life a little more. And in the face of all the busyness I need to be reminded, constantly, to appreciate life. My kids are growing so fast, goodness I have been pregnant for 8 months but it seems like a few weeks – have I really taken the time to enjoy it, to think about life – how it is now, how it will be when Max is born?

I want to read more. I enjoy reading about all topics, but I am constantly on the look out for poems on the topic of motherhood that are beautiful and accessible and real. I love Sylvia Plath’s work, but she is not exactly uplifting. I like Carol Ann Duffy, but she doesn’t have too many poems about being a Mom. I find random poems here and there, but it doesn’t seem to be a topic that has been explored enough.

If more Moms saw the relevance and importance of reading poetry, perhaps then there would be more poems written about being a Mom too. I want to read them. Like this one:

To My Daughter in a Red Coat

by Anne Stevenson

Late October. It is afternoon.
My daughter and I walk through the leaf-strewn
Corridors of the park
In the light and the dark
Of the elms' thin arches.

Around us brown leaves fall and spread.
Small winds stir the minor dead.
Dust powders the air.
Those shrivelled women stare.
At us from their cold benches.

Child, your mittens tug your sleeves.
They lick your drumming feet, the leaves.
You come so fast, so fast.
You violate the past,
My daughter, as your coat dances.

Here are some articles on the issue of reading poetry.


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