I have been in love with, and writing poetry, ever since the seventh grade when I wrote my first piece during some leftover time after a math tutoring session. I remember the day like it was yesterday. That day, while working with my math tutor, Ms. Tedesco, I had miraculously gotten all the math problems correct and after finishing with that day’s set, had no other work to do. As a result, Ms. Tedesco said that I could have free time, free time during which I wrote my very first poem. The piece was a short sixteen lines detailing the roller coaster that is life, aptly titled “Life.”
I have since lost the poem, but I remember it well. It was the beginning of my poetic journey, one that I have been on ever since.
I have been in love with poetry since age thirteen. But I know many others who are not. I have friends who have been in Masters level English classes who are afraid of this genre, who believe it is too difficult to access. I have teacher friends who claim they have no idea how to teach poetry. I have friends, ones who normally love English, who hear the word poetry, and run in the other direction. I don’t get it, they say. It’s too hard, they say.
It's true. Poetry is hard. It’s probably the hardest of all the genres. But also the most rewarding. Read on to find out why.
1. Reading poetry makes you a better public speaker.
Unlike most other genres of writing, poetry was made to be read or told out loud. Because a major component of poetry is rhythm, reading it out loud forces the reader to become more aware of language dynamics: where to pause, where to speed up, where to put emphasis. It forces the reader and/or writer to employ all of his or her powers of persuasion. They can’t just tell their listeners the words, they have to make them believe the words. Poetry—besides singing, perhaps— is the one art form that requires those who work with it to tell a story using their whole body, not just their mind.
2. The varying forms force you to be concise.
It has been psychologically proven that the human mind can only process about 5-7 pieces of information at a time. Because poetry is written in smaller chunks, (It can be longer in the case of ballads or epics, but even then those pieces are divided into cantos or other types of movements), it forces the reader to convey a lot of meanings and information using few words. Take a haiku, for example. The entire poem is three lines long with exactly 17 syllables. No more, no less. If the writer deviates from the form, they forfeit writing a haiku, instead opting to write something else entirely.
3. The constraints force you to use stronger vocabulary.
Because most poetic forms require the writer to use a specific number of lines and syllables, that writer most delve into the depths of his or her vocabulary in order to choose words that both convey meaning and adhere to syllable count. The writer has to do away with useless words like “good” and “fine” and instead opt for ones like “melancholy” and “exuberant.” Not only are the words more syllables—which can translate to more concise lines—but each conveys specific rather than general meaning.
4. Poetry can be combined with other art forms.
Yes, most writing can be combined with other art forms, but poetry is special. Poetry can be set to music, can include illustrated prints. (See prints from William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”) Poetry can include dance, instruments, multiple languages. It can be solitary or interactive. It has no limits.
5. Poetry fosters empathy by allowing you to connect to yourself and others.
Poetry is perhaps the most personal of all writing types. In order to write poetry well, one has to be willing to search the depths of hers or his soul, to write about what’s truly happening underneath the surface. All those things that make you feel uncomfortable—put them in a poem. All those places that you think you can’t go—go there. There is no other way. You have to write about your truth(s) so that others know that they, too, can write about theirs. Only by speaking the truth can honest connection be made.