My love affair with poetry began young. So young in fact I don’t actually remember which teacher it was who first read Shel Silverstein’s iconic books of poetry, Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. In my heart, I give credit to Mrs. Van Hagen because she is one my favorite teachers of all time, but honestly I don’t know if it was her, but I do know it began in elementary school. I learned early on the power of language to transform a person’s emotional state with a few quip lines of humor, in the case of Silverstein, but also through lines of love, grief, beauty or pain in the case of more “sophisticated” poems.
In high school my favorite poem became The Sick Rose by William Blake. I cannot tell you how grown up and mature I felt that I connected so deeply to these lines of poetry.
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
So sure, I may have been feeling my maturity and sophistication as I fell in love with poetry, but in my first poetry class in college we read this poem and I was so excited to share my deep gratitude for these lines as I nursed my first broken heart, but before I got a word out, a classmate, even more mature and sophisticated than me, raised his hand letting us all know, “it’s about a venereal disease.”
My favorite poem, named and claimed in high school, is about a VENEREAL DISEASE! And I’m not ashamed to admit I had to look up the word “venereal” when I got back to my room that day, but I certainly understood it wasn’t a great thing from the conversation in that college classroom. So yes, it was a bit of a rude awakening and perhaps it should have had me giving up on poetry but instead it helped me realize the many levels of connection poetry offers. It’s rarely only one thing…even if that thing is venereal diseases.
Over the years I have come to love poetry of all kinds, the funny, the joyous, the spiritual and even the Instagram poets. Language has power and I think poetry more than any other literary genre forces the author, the artist to excavate the very depths of human language and articulation. I continue to read poetry from a variety of authors and backgrounds and have found meaning in and amongst their words.
We are coming to the end of National Poetry Month, but it is always a good time to pick up some poetry so I have put together a reading list of some of my favorite poetry books for different levels of interest and subjects. I hope you give poetry a try. Pick something up from your local library, follow a Instagram poet or pull an old anthology off your shelves (am I the only one with those…probably). Give it a try and let me know how it goes, honestly, I love to hear people’s experiences, good and bad of sitting with and consuming poetry.