The Allure of Poetry
As we near the end of April, it’s important that we continue to honor the beauty of poetry. Many people may have been turned off by poetry in grade school because they had to read poems repeatedly to figure out what the poets were saying. However, modern poetry tends to be more accessible, with less of a tendency toward rhyming lyrics. While it might be entertaining to be inspired by iconic poets of the past, modern poets write what is more commonly called “narrative poetry,” which are essentially poems that tell a story.
Poetry has been in and out of my life for nearly five decades. As a teenager, I devoured the poetry of spiritual scribe Kahlil Gibran and poet and singer-songwriter Rod McKuen (I think I had all his books). Recently, I Googled him and was shocked to learn that he was 81 years old, almost the same age as my mother. For some reason, I thought he was closer to my age because so many of his sensibilities resonated with me when I was a teenager. His poems seemed so much more hip than how I remember my mother back then. McKuen’s website featured some of his unpublished poems, and I couldn’t resist reading them. The first one that caught my eye was, coincidentally, “Age is Better,” which begins like this:
I have been young, a fresh faced sprout,
with agile legs, a muscled arm and smile
to charm the world I went through
in a rush to get a little older,
This is such a beautiful poem, especially for us baby boomers who are beginning to look back and reflect upon the lives we’ve led, reminiscing about how we were when we younger. While many of us have tried to embrace our many life transitions, we now look back with a mix of wisdom and wonder.
The beauty of McKuen’s poems and, indeed, most poetry, is that it encourages us to remain in the moment with our observations, experiences, images, and feelings. The poetic form also honors the joy of succinctness and minimalism while offering sensitivity with compelling, musical language. These are just some of the many reasons I love writing and reading poetry. In the writing classes I teach, I always begin by reading a poem, because not only does it set the mood, but it is also a way of “cutting to the chase” of what is being said. One poem that has become one of my favorites as I hover over my sixth decade is Billy Collins’s poem “Forgetfulness,” which begins:
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of . . .
Reading and writing poetry also has healing and transformative powers. As a matter of fact, many therapists augment their treatment by encouraging their clients to write poetry to express their feelings. This is one way to foster hidden creativity and a chance to allow clients to express themselves using an artistic form. This may be done by writing about a moment in the past, the present, or even the future. The idea is to include as many details as possible so readers feel as if they’re with you on the page, living the experience side by side. Writing poetry also forces you to go deeper into your heart and to write with your heart and not your head as a way to access your inner voice.
Like all types of writing, if you want to be a poet, it is imperative that you read lots of poetry. If you’ve never written a poem or haven’t written in a long time, a good place to start is by writing a prose poem, which uses the rhythm of a sentence and could be just a few sentences about a moment that changed your life. The prose in this type of poem extends to the right-hand margin, where verse breaks each line at a place not determined by this margin. The prose poem can be a story, description, or a captured mood; and all unnecessary words, phrases, and clauses are eliminated. The French poet Charles Baudelaire was largely responsible for popularizing this type of poem. Since there are really no formal requirements, it’s often a comfortable way to begin writing this form.
Try this: Think of an experience you might want to write about, then tell the entire story in three or four sentences, which will force you to be concise. Focus your writing on an action full of emotion. Then revise. If you like what you’ve written, try another. This time, make it five or six sentences long. Keep doing this over and over until it feels comfortable for you, and before long, your writing will be flowing beautifully.