Poetry Is Not Dead

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Poetry Is Not Dead

Alexis Yang, Staff Writer

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I can guarantee that when most high schoolers think of the word “poetry,” they feel neither vehemence for lyrical language nor veneration of poetic genius. No, I can guarantee that they imagine themselves bent over musty, decrepit textbooks ridden with coffee stains, words dead between pages. I can guarantee that during the poetry unit in English class, their eyelids slide shut as they swear that their parents must have studied from these same books.

This is their misconception.

It’s a misunderstanding that plagues too many students. It’s built into the way poetry is taught in school, into the stereotype by which it’s perceived. Struggling to stay awake over lines of Robert Frost, decoding iambic pentameter in Shakespearean sonnets, being forced to analyze a text by a dead poet, laden with metaphors you don’t understand—this is the only interaction most people have with poetry.

Before I explored poetry, I thought this way too.  Prose is better; why write poetry, anyway? Why separate words with random breaks just because you feel like it? And Poetry Day? Nobody will go to that.

Last summer, I attended the Juniper Institute for Young Writers at UMass Amherst. My peers’ poetry was lyrical, electric, awe-inspiring. Now I see that poetry is beautiful. It’s astounding. It’s a creation of rhythm out of words, out of connotations, out of metaphors and similes. It is anything but the old books distributed in English classrooms, the forced readings of texts you can’t understand. Poetry isn’t just Shakespearean sonnets; some poets use simple phrases and everyday language to convey emotion in a unique way. Various forms that break boundaries, such as prose poetry, are anything but conventional—with a blank canvas of possibilities, poetry doesn’t have to be boring or formulaic.

If poetry is truly this beautiful, then why do so few appreciate it? For me, there is one glaring reason: time. I choose to spend the time to read a poem, respect it, analyze it. To sit down and perform more than just a brief skim, to really look at the placement and symbolism and how all the seemingly unrelated ideas connect to create a cohesive whole. That is what I find invigorating about reading poetry.

Today, teens would rather play video games or scroll through social media than take the time out to appreciate literature. I wish that people my age would be able to look at a chapbook of poems without groaning internally. I wish that they would appreciate the literary merit, the nuance of language, the stylistic choices that result in powerful subtleties. I wish that they would stop playing Fortnite and open a book. Read a literary magazine. Challenge themselves to look at things from one different angle, two different angles. Appreciate the thought a poet has put into their work. Often, people don’t spend the time to be awed by the mastery of artistry, the same wonder that is evoked when you see an astounding painting in a museum. If my peers could do this regularly, they could tap into the greatness of human achievement.

As an art form, poetry is unique because it incorporates both visual and literary elements. Although prose does lend itself to making visual choices such as paragraph breaks, poetry has more opportunities for variation in size and spacing. Especially in free-form poetry, poets’ creativity can soar not only in literary aspects, but in visual art as well. In appreciating poetry, my peers can develop a respect for the possibilities of creative achievement, a remarkable accomplishment of humanity that should not be overlooked.

Poetry has the potential to be anything. Words and spacing create electricity, ignite emotions, derive meaning from the ordinary and extraordinary. If people can see that poetry is not hieroglyphics printed in ancient schoolbooks, it extend beyond literary circles. Its true beauty can shine through, giving artistry the awe and recognition it deserves.

It’s time to bring poetry back from the dead.