For National Poetry Month, Conundrum Press has asked our poets and writers to offer their thoughts on poetry. We will be publishing reflections throughout the month.
High school made me hate poetry. Fortunately, I still loved books enough that the prospect of studying line after line of rhyming verse wasn’t enough to discourage me from pursuing an English degree. It was in those university classes that I came to appreciate poetry — albeit grudgingly, at first.
I had previously only been exposed to formal, “classic,” English-language poetry à la Shakespeare, Frost, and the Brownings. Frankly, it all struck me as the same. The high school poetry canon largely presented me with poems following similar rules and covering similar subject matter. I found it all utterly unrelatable, and more of a mathematical equation of syllables and stock conceits than an art form.
Then, my undergraduate requirements led me to encounter classical epic poetry. I read and dissected the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid from cover to cover, and explored Beowulf under the tutelage of a professor who could recite its non-rhyming, alliterative verse in Old English. Why did these poetic tales strike me as modern when they are millennia old, and as less rigidly formal when they still followed their own complicated formulas of strict rules?
It was simply that these epics were the first time I had seen poetry follow different rules. There are so many different ways to “do art” — which is, in itself, a defining feature of art—and sadly, it took me until my college years to discover that this applies to poetry as much as to anything else. My prejudice against poetry removed, I was able to appreciate the sassy beat of Maya Angelou, the steady flow of Langston Hughes, the senses springing from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the wit-wrapped insights of Richard Lovelace.
Now, I wouldn’t describe myself as a broad-strokes poetry fan of poetry — I still read far more novels than chapbooks — but you don’t have to be a “poetry person” to thoroughly appreciate, enjoy, and “get” poetry. We don’t let the most ardent fans of football or sci-fi movies make us feel too intimidated as non-experts to occasionally enjoy them — and poetry, too, is for everyone.
Sapphire Heien is an editorial intern with Conundrum Press. Stop by our bookstore to see our many fine collections of poetry and other works from our authors.