Does poetry speak to you?

What is poetry?

The definition of poetry is:literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature. (Oxford Dictionary)

Interestingly is says nothing about ‘rhyme’ in that definition, which appears in many poems.

Other definitions talk about ‘attempts to stir the readers imagination or emotions’; another talks about ‘concentrated imaginative awareness.’

What do I love about poetry?  

My enjoyment when reading poetry is to be moved emotionally by the words; excited by the sound of the words; energized by the rhythm; engaged by the picture created by the words, and last but certainly not least, amused by the fun, or the clever juxtaposition of words.  I don’t expect all of these things at once!

I don’t enjoy poetry that is so complex and obscure that it is inaccessible to me. By that, I mean that when I get to the end of a poem, I’m wondering what it was about.

When I write poetry, I hope that I manage at times, to engage, amuse and question people in their thinking by what I say. My poetry certainly isn’t obscure or highly intellectual. 

My favourite poets include; Roger McGough; Wilfred Owen; Benjamin Zephaniah; Jon Silkin; Brian Patten; John Agard; Maya Angelou; Lemn Sissay; W.H Auden, W.B Yeats and many, many more. I can now add to that list William Carlos Williams, a poet who my best friend has just introduced me to.  

I’m always finding new poets that I enjoy. I don’t always like everything they write, and in fact you’ll probably notice there are not many ‘romantic’ poets included in there. But there are several famous, romantic poems that I are in my all-time list of poems I love.

Do you read poetry?

When I recently held a poetry reading evening, there were some of my friends, who just couldn’t be persuaded to come along; even when the event was in aid of charity.

Many people don’t seem to like it as a literary form.

When searching for statistics about reading poetry, initially, I failed miserably. However, then I found a survey by the Arts Council (between 2010/11 and 2016/17), looking at adults’ engagement with literature. 

They found there was a statistically significant increase in the proportion of adults who had engaged in literature – 10.0 per cent and 12.4 percent respectively. 

Another finding was that in 2010/11 and 2016/17 a similar proportion of adults had written poetry in the past year – 3.7 per cent and 3.8 per cent respectively. 

The survey looked at adult’s engagement in literature events; those connect with books or writing, and literature activities; writing stories, plays or poetry themselves, or being a member of a book club.

As this was survey was four years ago, it would be good to hope that the percentage has risen further since then.

Why people don’t appear to like poetry

Asking my friends who don’t like poetry for their reason, often the answer was that they thought it was too ‘airy-fairy’, or too intellectual, academic, or they just couldn’t make sense of it.

Someone suggested that people may dislike it, compared to other forms of literature, because poetry demands more effort from the reader. Often a poem has to be analysed to be understood.  

That then takes us back to our school days, and the memory of being forced to either learn poems by heart, to later perform them, or, pulling them apart to understand them. 

This latter exercise may be what puts people off, and suggests that perhaps we are a little too lazy to bother with poetry when it comes to reading for relaxation.

It is often suggested that the we live in a world where we expect instant gratification.

Do you write poetry?

Research suggests that poets read other poet’s poetry. 

Although again, the Arts Council’s survey found that 3.8 per cent of adults had written poetry in the year studied.

During lockdown, I know a few people who have found writing poetry a good outlet for their feelings about the situation in which we’ve found ourselves.

These are people who don’t normally write poetry, and probably don’t read it either.

I believe this shows the emotional strength that poetry has to help us express emotions, and ideas that we may otherwise find hard to put into prose.

Poetry also gives the freedom to be more expressive, and experimental.

A quote from one poet who I studied for ‘A’ Level English:

“Tread softly because you tread of my dreams”

W B Yeats

Lis is a writing mentor and author on “Mixed Feelingss’, an autobiography; True love doesn’t care about age, colour or social background. She has also published a book of short stories, and three poetry books.