My friend, who likes reading, just told me she hates poetry. I was shocked. I am always shocked when someone tells me they hate poety, not just because it’s a sweeping dismissal of an entire literary genre, but also because… well, how can you not like poetry?
I get that some people don’t like the complexity of the language some poets use. Was it Nietzche who said that poet’s muddy the water to make it appear deeper? To me that’s bad poetry. Bad poetry is complex to give a false impression of depth. Good poetry is like a literary strip tease, the slow removal of doubt and the tantalising glimpse of understanding. A detective game, in which you solve the poets clues to reveal the truth at the end, or have you?
For me, poetry is a game, and I enjoy playing the game well. I think that a lot of the problem is the way poety is taught. Either people are numbed young as children by being forced to learn some bloody poem about waving daffodils by rote (he nicked the idea for that from his sister’s diary…) or they are told what a poem means, when really poetry should be as subjective as any other form of literature. You bring your own interpretation to the table.
Teaching poetry was my favourite aspect of teaching and I conciously avoided forcing my interpretation of the poem on a class. I like to think this allowed students to gain confidence enough to provide their own analysis. When they see there is no right or wrong, they enjoy pulling out words and thinking about what the word means to them, how the poem relates to their own experiences of life.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say there’s no such thing as bad poetry, there’s plenty of bad poetry, just like there are plenty of god awful novels out there. But there is also brilliant poetry, and people shouldn’t be put off by bad experiences. I only wish it was afforded a greater status and made more accessible.