Do We Really Need More Poetry?


Photo by Michelle Ortega. Used with permission.

A wall went viral. Multiple people pinged me about its poetic sentiment. I haven't retweeted it or reshared it. Sometimes I simply want to mull a message before casting my social media vote. The message in this case: "More Poetry is Needed."

My first social media response was a friendly observation that it might be pretty cool if we were to read the poetry we already have. The Poetry Society gave me a sweet gold star for my thoughts. Maybe they agree it's good to value the excellent poetry that already exists, rather than simply creating, as Madonna might say, "More, more, more."

Reader, Go Deeper

Perhaps you've felt it too: that sense of being overwhelmed, distracted, scattered--from the experience of reading more, more, more, but never really sitting with anything and processing it. The antidote? Time and attention.

5 Ways to Read Poetry More Deeply

1. Choose a poem to "sit with" for a week. Copy it out by hand. (We remember a much greater percentage of what we read when we copy it by hand. This is a trick every good reading teacher understands.)

2. Read the poem aloud at least once a day, all week.

3. For your chosen poem, discover the power of a single line, and share it.

4. Take that single line and paint it or pin it up, at home and at work.

5. Treat your poem to a walk each day. Focus and movement travel the same brain pathways. Take advantage of that, to help you not only remember your favorite lines but also to get them working more deeply into your psyche.

Yes, But is More Poetry Needed?

As a former educator, I do believe in a dual approach of reading with both depth and breadth. So, if I think further about that viral message, I have to agree: more poetry is needed.

5 Reasons More Poetry is Needed

1. "Turn to the poets. Learn from them," says Verlyn Klinkenborg in his compact writing book, Several Short Sentences About Writing. He's right. In my experience as an editor and a publisher, poets make better prose writers, hands down. So go ahead. Learn how to write a poem.

2. Poetry can help to heal. People like Fred Foote, a retired Navy Medical Corps physician who works with veterans, find that poetry can put into words what is difficult to say and to process. As with art in general, this is a kind of butterfly's burden, in which the fragility of beauty somehow packs a surprising strength in the face of our wounds.

3. Among the multitudes who proclaim, "Poetry is dead," advertising consultants Al and Laura Ries assert that poetry no longer has a function, since it's lost its raison d'etre: communication of stories from one generation to the next. Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps poetry is no longer needed as a portable history book, but the micro stories it contains are still quite valuable for communicating both love and vision--peer to peer or between generations. I know I'm not the only parent who's used a poem to break through to the troubled mind of a teen. And I also know I'm not alone in using poetry up front, to build literacy in children. Poetry is also being used in modern life to solve conflicts at work, become more innovative, or get the girl (or boy).

4. Spending time with poetry can make us better readers. And better readers make better lovers (and better citizens). How can poetry make us better readers? Intriguing research into dyslexia, rhythm, and reading could suggest that early introduction of poetry (in the form of chanted rhymes) might increase the chances that children will learn to read. This is a matter of prepping the brain more fully for the act of decoding. Of course, good readers don't stop at decoding. They go on to understand nuance and complexity--an experience that readers of poetry get in spades. So, go ahead, and learn how to read a poem, too.

6. Keeping poetry confined to academia assures that it simply won't make the impact it could. More poetry is needed, outside of academia, to get poetry to more people. In a broad-based approach to spreading poetry, each of the primary living and learning arenas can be addressed: school, home, community, transportation, and work. Public days like Random Acts of Poetry Day, Poetry at Work Day, and Poem on Your Pillow Day aim to reach each of these arenas in ways that are accessible to the average person.

Now I'm off to find that social media message, "More poetry is needed." I'm thinking it's time to retweet it.