In a recent article in The Sun magazine, poet Kim Rosen said, “For most of my life I was afraid of poetry.” This fascinating comment was just one of many contained in the interview by Alison Luterman. Rosen mentions numerous encounters with people who truly believe that poetry “makes me feel dumb, like it’s some puzzle I can’t figure out.” She further states that lots of people think of poetry as some “elitist club” they can’t join.
Rosen’s response to that was to write Saved by a Poem, for the express purpose of ameliorating that condition. Her purpose, aside from a wake up call, was to heal and enrich. She likes to think of poetry as having the power of personal transformation, but she is quick to acknowledge, “you don’t have to love all poetry? Do you love all music?”
I cite Rosen’s remarks because I recall how alienating some group members felt when we first dealt with poetry. There were all manner of explanations. A few folks felt the need to preface their remarks with the revelation that they just don’t “do poetry.” Fortunately, in our group, that has changed. I’m not sure what accounts for the new outlook, but I suspect it has to do with the quality of discussion we often have. Part of that liberating force includes inviting the readers to bring their own lives and experiences to the poems and disregard anything approaching a “correct interpretation.”
When we forget about the information that might be needed to understand a poem, we allow ourselves to bring our own emotions to the text. In poetry there is much potential. Possibilities include cultural understanding, personal growth, and my favorite, an appreciation for the rhythm of the language that surrounds us in writing, media, and music.
I love hearing poetry read aloud. Sometimes I think that it should always be heard, but I get that it’s not possible. Still, as Kim Rosen reminds us, we can carry poetry within and benefit from its power in times of need. Students were once asked to possess poetry; that is, take ownership of a poem. I’m sure you’ve got one or two rattling around in your brain. They are particularly useful these days for coping with the spirit of these times. And if you go to the well in there and it’s dry, then you can tap the spring of your own sensibilities and create something new. Just remember, you can make the rules for your own poetry. You own the process, it doesn’t own you.