April is Poetry Month, forsooth, which is the only time you can get away with a word like that, to tell you the truth.
“Do we really need a whole month?” the poetry haters whine.” Wouldn’t a long weekend do just fine? Couldn’t we simply have National Poetry Day? Better yet, April’s so nice, can’t we just go out and play? Really, why bother with poetry at all? Play ball!”
And therein lies the problem: the perception that poetry’s archaic, as accessible as something written in Old English or Aramaic.
It starts at school, where we’re taught that poetry’s ”complex” and ”hard.” All that joyless parsing of Tennyson and the Bard sets one against it at an early age, triggering a visceral reaction against verse: ode rage.
Plus, poetry goes against the grain of our modern times. We want precision, answers, easily digested info, not rhymes! We process Google-able factoids and bits of trivia, like the number of jackets Don Cherry owns or the GDP of Bolivia. Poetry doesn’t offer these clear-cut solutions. It’s more about impressions, open resolutions. Who has patience for nebulous haikus when we could be solving medium Sudokus?
And all those rules can make you so skittish: epics Greek, sonnets British, quatrains, couplets, iambs, meter – don’t worry, I don’t understand it either.
No wonder the role of the poet ain’t what it used to be, certainly nothing you’d call a celebrity. When I try to think of a poet today who resonates in our society like Robert Frost, I’m lost. I suppose there’s Maya Angelou, though I don’t read her much, do you?
These may be tough times for poetry, but surely there’s a place for it, don’t you agree?
For starters, a poem views the world through a particular prism, crafted according to the poet’s vision, some mind-directing mechanism. A good poem bends the light of intelligence, sometimes with brash irony, often with elegance, subtle like mice, not a herd of elephants.
And is poetry not the foremost means for expressing love, not to mention it’s flip side, that fallen dove, regret? You bet. There’s a reason the lovelorn turn to verse when their hearts take a turn, often for the worse. Poetry is the speech of the soul; the brain does the legwork but the heart’s tale gets told.
(My only criticism is that poems are knocked if they express outright witticism. The more morose are respected the most, but why belittle if it triggers a giggle?)
Even if you struggle to tease out the meaning – spending an evening re-reading and reasoning – there’s pleasure still in the sound of the words, the lilt of the language in ways you’ve never heard, or rarely at least. It’s like seeing a dog pondering, not knowing what he’s thinking, but still admiring the expression on the beast.
There is song in words just as there are words in song. (Although if you think all lyrics are poetry, you’re wrong. Does your song include the word “ho”? Then no.) Why not take Poetry Month to commence appreciating how songs can be lyric in that other sense, like John K. Samson’s from The Weakerthans. (Buy “Provincial”; it’s essential.)
This, you see, is ultimately why we need this opportunity to do good by poetry. It’s a chance to appreciate language’s fluidity in all its full-frontal, sigh-and-gruntal nudity. (Now you see what poetry can do to me!) Whether it’s undulating prose or a fully formed sonnet, when you catch a stirring phrase, jump on it.
So take April, if you’re capable, to raise poetry’s status.
Better verse than this, that is.