Why You Should Write Poetry

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Most people don’t have a positive opinion of poetry. It’s seen as confusing, melodramatic, and pretentious, and most of these criticisms are valid.

It’s an unusual type of writing compared to what we’re used to, focusing more on emotion and imagery while typical writing is more logical and systematic. Poetry also breaks a lot of rules of grammar and structure, and many poets use the form of their writing itself, along with the content, to communicate their message. This can make it confusing to new readers.

However, poetry isn’t as bad as many of us think. It is a very diverse form of writing, and the way most people are introduced to it enhances its negative qualities and makes it look much worse than it is.

When we first see poetry, we see a very specific slice of it. We’re told to write ballads, haikus, or sonnets, types of poetry that restrict by forcing you to write with a certain number of syllables or lines, or with a certain rhyme scheme.

While these are perfectly valid forms of poetry, they’re also the most challenging for new poets. You’re forced to be careful with your words, as you have to meet certain requirements, and as a result you don’t focus on the message, the important part of the poem.

Poetry is also very often used for analysis. We all have memories of being having poems dumped on us in high school English and being told to analyze them for literary elements and deeper meaning.

This introduction to poetry makes it seem very confusing, as we’re typically reading poems from a long time ago that are hard to fully dissect and understand from a modern-day point of view, and we’re using poetry for something it wasn’t meant for. Poetry isn’t meant to be laid on a table and cut open, it’s meant to be experienced, felt, and savored by the reader.

All of this has made average people think they hate poetry, but poetry isn’t what we learned in school. Poetry isn’t meant to restrict writers and be analyzed by teenagers, it’s purpose is to be the most sincere expression of human thought.

Poetry is a wonderfully freeing form of writing. The very purpose of writing is to communicate ideas, and poetry is a way to break down the conventions that strangle writers so they can write the most openly.

Poetry can be written however you want — rhyming, no rhyming, good grammar, bad grammar, however many lines and syllables you want; everything is up to you. You don’t have to worry about anything except the message you’re trying to communicate, and that means your pen can flow freely.

Despite most people’s negative opinions of poetry, it’s actually quite easy to sound good when writing it. With my own poetry, I would read back on my poems and be surprised that it was something I had written just minutes ago, as it worked so well.

There is just something about poetry — about writing in short lines and not having to worry about everything feeling right — that taps into the most creative parts of your mind. You’re able to draw out ideas and descriptions you never could before, and the nature of how we approach poetry makes pretty much anything work beautifully.

That’s not to say all poetry has to be overly abstract or creative. While a lot of poetry tend to be emotional and symbolic, you don’t have to write that way. Some of my poems are just talking, just my thoughts on the page but written in verse, told more concisely and making use of form and rhythm.

If you’re not an emotional person, you don’t have to write emotional poetry. You can just write your thoughts, but poetry makes it easier for you to access all of your thoughts and feel empowered to write them down.

Along with being a great tool for writing, poetry is also good for reading.

Again, you might scoff at this thanks to how we’ve been introduced to poetry. Likely the only poetry most people have read is Edgar Allen Poe, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost. Famous, respected poets to be sure, but also poets that aren’t exactly the most approachable.

They wrote in contexts that are difficult to understand now, and about issues we no longer struggle with in the same way. They wrote using language and metaphors that bewilder us.

With these people as the face of poetry, most people have run away from it, but in the process they’re leaving a genre full of rich and entertaining reading.

Like conventional reading, you have to find the poetry that works for you. You have to find the writers with the right writing voice, topics, and structure, and if you’re able to do that, it makes it very enjoyable. Just like how everyone doesn’t like romance novels or Rick Riordan books, everyone won’t like political poetry or the works of Robert Frost, they have to fish around and find what they like.

Poetry may seem scary at first because it is different, but when you adjust, it can actually be more enjoyable to read than normal writing. Poetry reads more easily, as the use of form by many poets creates a flow of the writing that leads you from page to page, and it’s generally less dense.

Author Jason Reynolds once argued, in a talk with PBS Newshour, that students should be introduced to reading with poetry for these reasons. Normal reading, particularly the classics we read in school, can be complex, difficult reads that are a chore to get through, and poetry can counteract that by being more breathable.

Thanks to its form, poetry requires fewer words to convey emotion, something Reynold’s showcased with the following excerpt from his book, The Long Way Down:

“I felt like crying,

which felt like

another person

trapped behind my face

tiny fists punching

the backs of my eyes

feet kicking

my throat at the spot

where the swallow

starts.

Stay put, I whispered to him.

Stay strong, I whispered to me.

Because crying

is against

The

Rules.”

In only 50 words, Reynold’s was able to capture the many complex physical and emotional aspects of grief and sorrow. The same description likely would’ve taken pages for a traditional novelist.

So much can be captured with so little, and Reynold’s has said this makes the book more accessible. For new and intimidated readers, fostering an enjoyment of reading can come down to simply the words on the page, how the words are conveyed. Poetry provides more white space, which relaxes the readers and makes the reading experience far more pleasant than with normal books.

Even if you’re not a struggling reader, these same benefits will present themselves. Poetry is easier and faster to read, and can communicate a lot more than normal books.

There’s also more freedom for the reader with poetry. We’ve all dreaded having to find meaning in poetry in school, but when reading casually, that’s part of the fun. Bookworms love that normal books leave so much up to you — on their own, they’re just words on a page, and they come to life once you visualize them in your mind.

This makes the story partly controlled by the reader, as they can interpret the book as they choose.

With poetry, this is taken to the next level. So much is left unsaid that you are given complete liberty to make the text your own as you read it, and every interpretation is as valid as the next because, in the eyes of the author, they’ve clarified everything they need to and the readers are left to the rest.

For these reasons, I would encourage everyone to take a dive into poetry. Check out a book of poetry at the library or spend a week writing it on your own. Maybe even look at the poetry community here on Medium.

Either way, poetry deserves a second chance. It goes far deeper than most of us think, and it’s been ruined by years of school. It feels like an incredibly abstract and difficult genre of writing, but it’s actually very diverse and intriguing. Whether you love it or you hate it, you should at least experience poetry for real and see what it has to offer — it may just become your next obsession, as it has for so many others.

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Angry opinions from an angry writer on an inconsistent basis.

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Jonah Woolley

Jonah Woolley

Angry opinions from an angry writer on an inconsistent basis.

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