Don’t “Get” Poetry? Change That, This National Poetry Month

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The list is endless: Edgar Allan Poe, William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Nobel winner Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, and Pablo Neruda, another Nobel Prize winner and a Chilean diplomat. Some of the most notable names in the history of poetry. You have probably heard or read the mentioned poets, and may agree their work is an acquired taste?

Growing up, some readers can recall dozing off in class as our teachers recited from any number of classic poems. I admit at one point in time, the language stumped me, hindering my ability to appreciate this type of writing. The impression that age and experience were key to understanding the language may have been presumptuous on my part. Neither is a requirement to have an understanding of it. There is a wide range of poetry forms, enough to find one for each reader. This is a time of reflection, as life stands still for a while, so why not start something new? April is National Poetry Month; let’s open our minds to the possibility of finding more beauty and contemplation in the world.

Poetry has been around for thousands of years, literary enthusiasts have organized social clubs, groups, courses, and admired volumes of books in libraries and bookstores. That’s still happening. Scientists are also now studying poetry as it connects to the brain’s activity. Neurocognitive poetics, as it has been tagged by modern neuroscientist Arthur Jacobs, is the study of neural responses to poetry. The findings support the possibility that reading verbal materials spark an effect in the brain.

Have you ever stood still to listen to a sonnet whose rhymes resemble a song? Has a line in a villanelle lingered in your mind long after hearing its stanza repeat alternatively in a single poem? If you give poetry a chance it could surprise you in amazing ways. Certain verses can evoke the most intense emotion that you may have not experienced.

Growth comes in many ways: a character in a book that provides an epiphany, songs that trigger laughter or sadness depending on the place you are at the moment you’re listening. A poem can offer similar therapy, as it can teach or incite a deep thought or feeling. Challenging your intellect with less linear forms of creativity leads to a greater appreciation for culture and the arts. If this sounds daunting, know this: The best way to understand poetry is to simply just keep reading it; one day, you’ll come across something that just “clicks.” 

I used to look at poetry as some sort of puzzle that needed to be figured out, as I didn’t quite “get” it. This art is about much more than an ode, it’s power. Words make an impact on your mind, heart, and soul. Next time curiosity finds you, explore all the ways in which poetry is being celebrated. Explore this list of ideas from the Academy of American Poets to dip your toes in. There are also plenty of resources at our fingertips to begin the journey of literature online with Harvard University via edX, or The University of Pennsylvania via Coursera for free.  Or, get to know our Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, the first Native American to have ever been given this critical responsibility; she’ll be guest editing the Academy of American Poets “Poem-a-Day” series every weekday through the end of the month.