Why Poetry Is Still Important (Period).

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Photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash

Recently I wrapped up a unit on poetry both for my ninth graders and tenth graders. I’m going to rag on them a bit (they know how much I love them–I often joke that sarcasm is my love language, so if I don’t sass you, we’re probably not too close). The reason is that I want to use their voices to reflect a greater societal value: Education is merely utilitarian. In other words, the “When am I ever going to USE this?” blasting like endless cannons nearly every day of the unit is indicative of a modern understanding of learning and personal development. If it doesn’t give me something resourceful (a greater skill, a greater experience for my resume, something tangible, etc.), it’s not valuable.

I think we pay lip service to the arts through our offering of art-related classes in our schools and communities, but they’re relegated to secondary or tertiary status rather than prominent, inter-disciplinary aspects of life.

I found myself explaining the importance of reading poetry as the ability to interpret difficult texts (meaning that isn’t always immediately clear) which will be useful as they continue their education. Don’t get me wrong, as an English teacher, I believe in the importance of developing the types of skills that will serve them well in college and careers: grammar, composition, communication of ideas, and everyday work-related reading. In fact, I think I once naively assumed teaching English would be me sitting in a circle with a copy of Shakespeare in hand and discussing the deep implications of Macbeth’s gloomy reflection: “Out, out, brief candle!” I now know I was wrong AND I’m okay with that (but I also get to do that from time to time as well which makes me so happy). However, poetry should never be (and arguably CAN never be) relegated to utilitarianism. It just doesn’t work.

Poetry is mystical.

It is hard to define the lifting up and setting down on a higher mountain that poetry blesses a person with or the soft, spring grass on the feet or the embrace like my great-grandma’s old afghan that hugs me with warmth, truth, and memory.

Poetry teaches (sometimes preaches), and poetry caresses. It holds our hands in loss, kicks us out of the house in apathy, and transforms narrow thinking.

Poetry is life wrapped up and handed to us on a page, often messy and corporeal.

I like how a literary resource page of Abilene Christian University eloquently describes literature (and poetry):

Literature is something that reflects society, makes us think about ourselves and our society, allows us to enjoy language and beauty, it can be didactic, and it reflects on the human condition.  It both reflects ideology and changes ideology, just like it follows generic conventions as well as changing them.

But read what some famous poets have to say about poetry:

I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is prose; words in their best order; – poetry; the best words in the best order.

-S.T. Coleridge

or

Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.

-Carl Sandburg

or one of my favorites

The poet is the priest of the invisible.

-Wallace Stevens

Unfortunately, “all [we] want to do / is tie the poem to a chair with rope / and torture a confession out of it. // They begin beating it with a hose / to find out what it really means.”

Poetry doesn’t make you a more capable person, it makes you a better person.

Poetry makes you more well-rounded, perceiving life both intellectually and viscerally. It puts you in touch with reality. It breeds compassion and understanding.

Poetry is still important.

 


 

What are some of you favorite poems? Add a link to them. Here are a few of my favorites you can start with (or revisit).

“Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

“Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

“The Poet” by Pablo Neruda

“Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes

“Death, be not proud” by Johne Donne

“God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

“Sailing to Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats

“The Story-Teller” by Mark Van Doren

“Invitation” by Shel Silverstein

“Song of the Open Road” by Walt Whitman

“of course I want to be successful but…” by Rupi Kaur

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “Why Poetry Is Still Important (Period).

  1. Abby Jo

    I’ve found that poetry for me has been an outlet and a learning possibility. Playing sports helps relieve stress for some people, but for me, it never did the trick. Writing or reading pieces that are personal to me and only meant to be read by me has some sort of power that is hard to explain. However, I believe that by reading poems, it can help students understand difficult text AND learn new vocabulary. I don’t have much to say on the “when are you going to use this” perspectives, but I can say that reading Shakespeare and old poems is educational and entertaining.

  2. -Abby Jo again.

    My favorite poem is “How do you sleep with an IV in” by Neil Hilborn or “a mermaid escapist 2” by Amanda Lovelace.

  3. Demi Rieb

    I always wondered what was the point of reading poems and this blog really helped me. I learned that analyzing poetry will help us in the future when we have to analyze bigger and more difficult texts. People write poetry about their life and how they are feeling. It can often be very messy and hard to read, but if you take time, you can find the deep meaning of the poem.

  4. Emma Hutsell

    I really enjoyed this blog post! I learned many things from it like why poetry is important to read. Poetry can be something that you can lean on in your times of need. It can carry you through those times. I also learned through the blog that poetry cares and is life wrapped up in a book. Through this it has taught me why I should take time and deeply read poetry.

  5. Kendall Keegan

    I think that poetry is definitely a very important thing for students to learn. If no one was teaching how to interpret meaningful texts and poems we would have a very hard time in college or throughout our careers. I learned a lot from this blog and I even learned of some good poems to read.

  6. Lauren McCoy

    Personally, I think that poetry is an important thing to learn about. It is amazing how much can be said with just a few words, and how one thing can mean another. However, I think that it might be exiting if there was some more modern poetry thrown in with the historical ones. I know that the poems of the past are important, but I think it would be fun to dive into some more recent poetry if possible in the future. It would make a great compare and contrast topic where we could see what changed and remains the same about poetry then and now. Knowing poetry and how to interpret it will be useful in higher education, and I think that a couple more modern poems sprinkled here and there can make poetry engaging and (at least somewhat) more fun.

  7. Kaitlyn Gregg

    I actually really enjoy poetry, and I don’t mean the “I’m a teenage girl and I own milk and honey” like poetry. I genuinely like poetry. The many emotions and messages that just a single poem can convey is beautiful. Like a song poetry can mean something different to each person who reads it. Whatever the poet actually writes it about doesn’t matter after they release it; the poem at that point becomes up to interpretation of the reader. The readers experiences and emotions rather than the poets become what the poem is “actually” about. All of that being said my favorite poet is probably Sarah Kay and my favorite poems by her are easily “The Type” and “The Oak Tree Speaks”. I’m also just going to throw out “To the Notebook Kid” by Eve L. Ewing because it slaps.

  8. Reagan Roberts

    I really liked this blog! I especially liked your metaphors on what a poem is. I agree that poetry is still very important for students to learn. It benefits us in so many ways!

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