Since 1996, April has been designated as National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets. The purpose is to make more people aware of the art of poetry.
I used to be stunned whenever I’d hear someone say, “I just don’t like poetry,” but it has happened often enough for me to no longer react to it, and I realize that the real problem is the way they’ve been introduced to poetry.
All too often, the only time we’re made aware of poetry is when we are “forced” to read and analyze it in school. We see only the cold ink on the lifeless pages of our textbooks, and we believe that is all that poetry is.
I remember Maya Angelou telling the story of the teacher who made poetry come alive for her. She had written a note to the teacher (at that time, Maya was not speaking because of a childhood trauma she had experienced) that said, “I love poetry.”
“Nonsense,” the teacher responded. “You can’t truly love poetry until you experience it – until you feel the words form in your heart, swirl around in your mind, and spill over your lips in a torrent of expression that you can’t hold back!”
“You can’t truly love poetry until you experience it!” There is a lot of power and truth in those words.
And perhaps that is part of the reason that so many have a hard time appreciating poetry. We no longer read poems aloud, nor do we hear others do it. We don’t take the time to experience the poem, to feel the emotions expressed in the words.
Another problem is that the hyperbole of our discourse has robbed us of our ability to feel the passion of words. We say things like, “I love that movie” with the same passion that we say, “I love you,” and the word “love” loses its power.
Until a poet takes the word and reminds us of the power that it still holds.
When we read, “My love is such that rivers cannot quench . . .” in Anne Bradstreet’s “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” we are reminded that love is more than a feeling we get when we see a movie that will be forgotten as soon as another catches our attention.
Some poets use music to help get their work in front of people so that their poetry can be felt as well as read and understood. When Kris Kristofferson wrote, “She ain’t ashamed to be a woman, nor afraid to be a friend, and loving her was easier than anything I’ll ever do again,” he was writing a poem.