Why Poetry?

I have two reasons for poetry in honor of National Poetry Month:

Slow Down

Reading poetry forces us to slow down, pay attention, and connect with our world. To read poetry well, we have to listen carefully, submerse ourselves in the words, swim awhile in the emotion, and step into the speaker’s shoes for a minute. Dr. Salma Jayyusi, said, “If we read one another, we won’t kill one another.” Listening is rare in our shouting culture. I read poetry with my students to help them hear and appreciate voices different from their own.

Grow as a Writer

Reading poetry aloud is one of the BEST ways to develop as a writer. Poets rely on precise word choices, strong images, gripping emotion—all crammed into a few lines. Students can read or listen to a poem in a few minutes, even if they don’t read much outside of class. Voracious readers tend to stick to certain genres or authors, which limits exposure to language. Poetry opens up a world of words to the writer.

But Poetry Isn’t For Me…

One of my favorite teaching memories happened the year I taught remedial English to fifth year seniors who were tired, disinterested, and mostly absent due to suspensions or hangovers. We read poetry that spring—almost every day. No dissection, we just let the words wash over us. Students’ attendance improved. Fewer spent time suspended. Students would stop in my room after lunch and sit on the sofas scouring every poetry book I had, reading poems aloud to each other. I don’t know if it was the poetry or just a fluke, but all my poetry books were stolen that year. I’ve never been so pleased.

The next time you are in a library—check out the poetry section (usually in the 800’s). If you have a Bible, take a look at the big book in the middle—Psalms. Read a few aloud this week. Read silly poems with your kids or read Psalms over breakfast, and see if you don’t notice a few new things around you today.