Today’s guest poetry poster is Laurel Snyder.
It breaks my heart when I talk to a kid who says they “hate poetry” or that they “can’t read poetry.” Especially if they think it’s “too hard.” Poetry is the easiest thing in the world. Or it can be. If it feels hard, and you don’t want it to (some people like for things to be hard)—you’re overthinking it.
When I was little, my dad read me poems. This may well be the single greatest thing he ever did for me. He read me Blake’s Songs of Innocence. He read me The Fairies. But most of all, he read me Yeats. Night after night. The Song of Wandering Aengus. Long before I knew what any of it meant, each night, until I fell asleep.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized how much I’d stolen from Yeats, by accident. How often, as I write my own poems, I come back to his meter. How often, in a novel, I find myself inserting a silver fish or an apple. How often things “glimmer.” These words and images, branded into my brain, long before I could think about them as a writer. I often have to edit out the Yeats.
But this leads me to wonder how much that early love of words itself came from those nightly readings. Not because the specific poems mattered so much. But because, when I was young enough that anything delivered in a loving way was received happily, I was given poems. They belonged to me, as much as Itsy Bitsy Spiders or Smurfs or Angry Birds belong to some kids. So of course they weren’t hard for me. They were just part of childhood.
Hollow lands and hilly lands! Hollow lands and hilly lands! Hollow lands and hilly lands! Hollow lands and hilly lands! Hollow lands and hilly lands! Hollow lands and hilly lands! Hollow lands and hilly lands! Spin around in your backyard, screaming that, in bare feet, and see how many times you can do it until you fall down, dizzy. Do you think that’s hard? Well, that is how I experienced poetry. Singing it to myself while the blood rushed in my ears and I tore down a hill on my bike. Or as I swam in the neighborhood pool.
Poetry is like any other art form. You take it in, and then you’re in charge of what you do with it. Some people hear music, and it makes them dance. Some people hear music and it makes them cry. Some people hear music and it makes them want to go for a run. Some people hear music and try to understand it. But not all of them!
I wish I could go back in time and read every kid a poem ten times before they turn three. Unfortunately I can’t. But I’d encourage every kid reading this to try doing something else with a poem. Something besides trying to understand it, in a homework-sort-of-way.
Not that there’s anything wrong with homework! But if that’s the only way you encounter something, that’s the only way you encounter it. Hey—I bet if you had to write a homework assignment about Angry Birds, you’d find that a little harder too!