Why Poetry Still Deserves a Place on Your Bookshelf
We live in a time of extreme abundance. Anyone can easily walk down the street and pass endless places offering food, drinks, and entertainment. In fact, the world is so fruitfully full that you don’t even have to leave your house for these things. You can stay firmly seated on your couch and still access an enormous number of goods, services, and sources of entertainment.
In the midst of all this buzz, it’s easy to feel like you should rush through things. It’s easy to feel like everything you do needs to have a clear end, a clear goal. How else are you to decide between the literal millions of activities you could engage in?
This applies as much to online shopping as it does to books. People are reading more and more non-fiction, seeking out more information about the world. They view reading as a time investment, and like all investments, they want to see a sound return.
Nonfiction seems the obvious choice in this case. Learning practical information can open up new career opportunities or teach you skills that help you DIY your life, saving you money on any number of projects. But while nonfiction is great, it isn’t everything. Eschewing more creative and artistic-oriented forms of writing to focus exclusively on nonfiction means missing out on something beautiful. Poetry is a prime example.
Why So Many People Hate Poetry
Many people have a strong aversion to poetry. In a lot of cases, this is completely understandable. When people think of poetry, they tend to conjure one of two equally obnoxious images. The first is the very outdated and almost comically overplayed rhyming poetry. While there are many fantastic poems that make use of rhyme, there are way, way more that use it poorly.
These poems are hardly even poems. They tend to be little more than poorly communicated thoughts jammed into a rhyme scheme. No wonder people aren’t keen on this kind of poetry. If it doesn’t rhyme you associate with poetry, there’s a good chance it’s melodramatic, moody teenagers writing about the great tragedy of an unreciprocated crush.
While I’m not sure how many real-life instances of this exist, it’s a trope that has been heavily featured in pop culture. Movies and TV shows love to portray silly adolescents writing cheesy poetry, and as a result, many people walk away with the idea that poetry is itself an immature thing.
But both of these images are extremely surface level. While I would never argue that these kinds of cheesy poetry are worth reading, they don’t in any way represent the depth of the genre. To write poetry off based on its worst examples would be like deciding you weren’t a fan of paintings because you saw a piece a four-year-old created with their fingers.
What Does Good Poetry Do?
Good poetry goes so far beyond simple line breaks and rhyme schemes. Good poetry puts you in touch with the world, language, and yourself in ways that few other things can.
While poetry, like all art, is hard to judge objectively, most experts agree that one of the features of a good poem is that it “shows” instead of “tells”. This is true of most kinds of writing. In a novel, for instance, it’s typically more engaging to describe a scene and let the reader infer the character’s emotion than to simply say how they feel.
But with poetry, it goes even deeper. Language is wielded in new and stimulating ways, connecting parts of your brain that rarely interact. This helps you gain both a new intellectual understanding of things and a new emotional connection with them. Poetry has the beautiful ability to make the mundane fresh, to give you new ideas and connections to the little things, and to instill wonder back into your life.
Looking at more practical takeaways, poetry can teach you how to use language to better communicate ideas. By exposing you to endless metaphors and synonyms, poetry gives you the tools you need to home in on what you really mean. It helps you express yourself more clearly by expanding your capacity to use language.
This is counterintuitive to those who associate poetry with abstractness and vaguery. While these words certainly do describe a lot of poetry, that abstractness also leaves you with connections between previously-unassociated words.
As an extremely basic example, if a poem describes a friendship as “flowering”, that use of language leaves you with a specific sense of the friendship. The association between friendship and a flower teaches you something about an aspect of friendship.
Using that understanding, you can better communicate about that aspect of friendship moving forward. It gives you a better emotional understanding that can help you explain what you mean when speaking about friendship in the future. In this way, poetry is beneficial to both your subjective well-being and your ability to communicate.
Poetry’s bad reputation has scared many away from the genre. While understandable, this reputation isn’t fair to the many beautiful poems that lay just beyond the surface.
Poetry’s ability to help us slow down and appreciate life should earn it a spot on any list of stress management tips, and its ability to enrich our use of language makes it pragmatically useful to just about anyone. So next time you’re at the bookstore, flip open a poetry book. You might be surprised at what you find inside.