Ask the grumpies: How do you feel about poetry?

Leah asks:

How do you feel about poetry?

#1:  I am a big fan of doggerel.  Also patter.

#2:  I have no particular feelings about poetry. I’m not into it, myself…  I just… don’t really care about poetry.

#1:  Though you do know some of the more famous poems, at least enough to have written this lovely apology to Jenny Joseph .  And this link love of yours from 2014 was super impressive.  I have no doubt you will someday do your own take on This is Just to Say if you haven’t already.  Even though you’re not on twitter.

#2 says, YOU wrote all those things!!!

#1 I would have remembered writing when I am an old tenured woman.  I have never had any desire to dye my hair purple!  Or any color (other than getting highlights at the Vidal Sassoon school as a favor to a stranger in graduate school).

How do you feel about poetry, grumplings?

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20 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How do you feel about poetry?”

  1. independentclause Says:

    Poetry is fucking awesome! Sometimes it’s a matter of reading more or reading differently. Poetry is not a puzzle or “this interpretation is right or wrong.” It’s just something said with fewer words and less-explicit transitions. Listening to a poem out loud is a different experience than on the page.

  2. gwinne Says:

    I have a lot of thoughts. It’s one of my fields. I suspect most people who don’t ‘like’ poetry haven’t read much, or even any, poetry written after 2000 (or even 1950). I would HIGHLY recommend reading Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen, given the political leanings of the blog.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t think that’s fair. Both of us have plenty of experience with modern poetry. Garrison Keeler used to have that morning show thing and John Green regularly does a short poem on Dear Hank and John. It’s ok, neither of us actively dislike it, but we’re just not that into it.

      We both like clever wordplay (which many people into poetry don’t count as poetry which I think is unfair) and aren’t that into Meaning. Give me a brief with topic sentences if you want to tell me something– don’t make me work for insights. Set it to music if you want me to experience beauty.

      • gwinne Says:

        I don’t want to argue, and I wasn’t making a claim about the two of you specifically. I’m just saying there’s a TON of poetry out there and likely something for everyone. I teach intro to poetry most years, and there are a lot of folks who say they’re not into poetry until we read X book in my class.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Some people dislike chocolate even when they’re not allergic. Different strokes.

      • independentclause Says:

        The equivalent of the topic sentence for poetry is often the last line(s). I also think many people who don’t like poetry (and I don’t mean you guys explicitly either, I mean people at large) haven’t read anything contemporary. High school education doesn’t set people up to love poetry in my experience.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Shrug, I like some of the school poetry more than modern stuff, probably because it has withstood the test of time. Also my knowledge of it helps me appreciate clever memes from people who also got the same bits in school. So at least there’s that shared culture bit, and middle school and high school poetry isn’t terribly difficult. (And if it is difficult then it’s going to be about either about sex or death which takes the mystery out.)

        I’ve noticed that learning something in class can make me appreciate things I initially disliked (see Mansfield park) but can destroy my ability to reread things I used to love (see pride and prejudice).

        Not something we seek out. I suspect that most kids who appreciate a contemporary poem in their college English class also don’t seek it out again once the class is done, even if they no longer would answer poetry sucks when asked. Which is basically what we’re saying.

        Generally giving people a lot of different options will make it more likely that they find something they like. But I’m willing to bet that if you made everyone read contemporary poetry for a class it would still result in the vast bulk of people never seeking out a poem again once the class was over. Which isn’t good or bad, it just is.

        Now, that isn’t true if one considers contemporary pop music and terrible rhymes to be poetry. I remember when John was gone from dear hank and John and the guest hosts all read Elton John lyrics seriously and it was played for laughs. But just because something is easy and it rhymes doesn’t mean it isn’t poetry. Part of the problem is not contemporary vs older poetry but what is considered poetry and gatekeeping. Lots of people have “terrible” poetry in their daily lives. You can’t spell awesome without me.

  3. bogart Says:

    I am in favor of it, but rarely engage with it.

  4. delagar Says:

    I always tell my students that “poetry makes nothing happen,” which is a quotation from an Auden poem, but in fact I like poetry a lot. Sharon Olds is my favorite contemporary poet, an Richard Wilbur my favorite recent poet. I also like Keats a lot, but who does?

    This is the Auden poem, which is one of my favorites: https://poets.org/poem/memory-w-b-yeats

  5. K Says:

    I was very into poetry when I was in high school, undergrad, and grad school. It fell by the wayside in adulthood, though fragments of things that I memorized do survive in my thinking. Maybe not day-to-day thinking, but definitely month-to-month thinking. I don’t know if or when I’ll return to it again. Perhaps when I’m not working anymore and don’t have the unending pull of work-house-child things?

    One of the fragments that’s been in my mind lately–because of Alabama is from this one:
    https://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/hope-a-d/advice-to-young-ladies-0146091

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I read poetry for Forensics in high school for a year. I wasn’t that great at it. I always did well on Curiosity (may have killed the cat, but…), but never scored well on Masks of Me or Warning (which were my three for competition before I got moved to quick journalism). I have all sorts of bits memorized! (I read a lot of poetry in middle and high school, but even then preferred doggerel.)

    • Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

      K, thank you SO MUCH for that poem, which will work beautifully in a class I am prepping for next fall.

      • K Says:

        Glad to hear it, Dame Eleanor! I think it was in the Norton Anthology I got in high school, which happened to also be used as a textbook in undergrad. I don’t think I was ever assigned that particular one. I just came across it on my own and took to it.

  6. rose Says:

    LOVED the poem about the plans for after tenure. Sadly the pressures on women to NOT fill that hoped for freedom are way larger and more powerful than the freedom tenure offers.

  7. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I majored in Literature and read loads of poetry. Never appreciated it. I know it can be good and powerful and some of rupi kaur’s stands out to me but like short stories, I just don’t have any appreciation for the form.

  8. independentclause Says:

    Sure. The average person does not ever read poetry after school and does not seek it out. On the other hand people look to poetry for weddings and funerals (as many people’s only poet friend, I am sometimes asked for advice on this subject). I think it’s awesome if it works for people. I never think it works for all people. Considering music as poetry is always interesting; I am not against rhyme on principle (fan of Ogden Nash); nor am I a fan of gatekeeping. Poetry is a lovely nerdy obsession for those who are interested in that flavor of lovely nerdy obsessions. Someone famous (sorry to be vague and imprecise, but I’m also cooking dinner, multitasking, haha) said that music is what happens between the notes, and I totally believe that poetry is what happens between the words. No one has to like it, but I do.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Which is great. It is good to like things you like. (Assuming what you like doesn’t involve hurting people.)

      The only thing we were taking umbrage at was the idea that if only people who weren’t crazy about poetry were more educated they would all like (contemporary) poetry. Some people maybe.

      • independentclause Says:

        I have two thoughts about this.

        1. It is such a cliche and if my writing students saw me say this they would laugh their collective asses off—but there is a wider variety of contemporary poetry now than there was (to the best of my knowledge) in the past 20 years, and that could make some people find poetry they like when previously they did not find any to relate to. This is generic advice. I have no idea what your experiences with poetry is/was.

        2. For most of my schooling, I had the knee-jerk reaction that I hate math. What I really meant was that I wasn’t very good at it in school and it was never taught to me very well. Now that I am older and not in school any more, I have encountered math in other contexts, especially in relation to a historical figure, an astronomer that I have been writing about. I’m still not adept in math and I will never be a mathematician, but I understand better why people are interested in math and why they pursue math and why math is important in the greater scheme of things. I no longer say I hate math. I have even copyedited math, which is a whole other experience (and one that I can relate to poetry!). I think people have similar responses to poetry. And I sometimes react to that without reading all the nuances. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        If you read up above, we have been exposed to “modern” poetry via Garrison Keeler’s morning poetry thing (before he got kicked off of NPR for sexual harassment) as well as dear hank and john where John starts with a short poem. It’s fine. Not something we seek out.

        I love math (#2 not so much), but I don’t expect my students to love it. I just expect them to no longer think they’re bad at it if they work hard on it after a semester with me.


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