“I hate poetry. It doesn’t make any sense.”
How funny it is to be so adamant on disliking something to the point of downright despising it, but end up dedicating your life to it a few years later. How fickle humans are. Or, maybe, how fickle I truly am.
Like any small child, I had very serious aspirations to be a fairy mermaid princess when I grew up, but above that I knew I wanted to be a writer. I spent my free time writing stories, reading for inspiration, and dreaming about sitting in a cafe in Paris working on my soon-to-be-wildly-sucessful novel (I am a walking cliche, I know).
Even back then, I knew I hated poetry. “Why can’t they just get to the point?” I would ask my sister, who despite being much more visual than I could ever dream to be, really loved poetry. She would always use her big-kid wisdom to respond with something along the lines of, “Because it wouldn’t have as much of an impact,” or “Because there are thousands of ways to say the same basic thing,” or “Because it’s more fun.” She was right, though I was too stubborn to see it yet.
Cue eighth grade me, a chubby band nerd with two friends and a growing cynical perspective on life as a whole. I was very quickly realizing just how difficult it would be to become a full-time writer, figuring out that it’s not as simple as just being a writer. I’d all but given up on the dream to find something more practical. I wrote it off as nothing but exactly that: a childish dream, but then I was forced to write my own poetry for the first time and I instantly turned back into the passionate little kid who wanted to try to make writing work even if it seemed like an impossibility.
When I was given the assignment I instantly cringed, trying to come up with a viable excuse to get out of it. As much as I hated the idea of attempting to understand poetry, let alone write it, I also didn’t want to let down the only teacher that had taken a liking to my awkward and quiet nature. So I did it through gritted teeth.
Suddenly through reading hundreds of poems for research, I came to the shocking realization that poetry is extremely broad, so much more than my previously narrow idea that it was exclusively indecipherable sonnets written in Old English. I found poem after poem that inspired me, some modern and some not, and before I knew it I had written several different poems to choose from. When I got to school the next day, I handed my assignment to my beloved teacher with pride, and he gave me a knowing smile in return. He hung my poem in the hallway outside his classroom as I stood back to watch students and teachers alike stop to read the poem that I wrote.
Later, in the tenth grade, I had another teacher who didn’t just solidify my love for poetry, but taught me how to use my voice. At that point, I was still focused on short stories, poetry having been put on the back burner after middle school because I didn’t know yet what I wanted to say. When he announced that we would be spending the next month solely on learning about poetry, I met the challenge with unsolicited excitement.
It started with sonnets, then free verse, then limericks, narratives, couplets, and epics. I preferred some types to others, but I couldn’t get enough either way. I wanted to try it all. I had no idea there was so much freedom in poetry. I had no idea there was so much opportunity.
One day, as he did often, he took the class outside with our pens and notebooks. He told us to write a haiku based on what we saw. Then, one on what we heard. Then, one on what we felt.
That’s when I figured out the point of poetry. You write about the things you already know, but likely had not paid much attention to before. Sure, I could physically feel the wind on my face, but could I describe it? Could I talk about how it felt, to a tee? Could I reach far enough inside myself to let it remind me of something important?
I kept a poetry notebook after that and joined the writing club at school. If you knew me in high school, you would know that that was the only extracurricular activity I ever willingly chose to take part in. I wasn’t into clubs or anything of the sort, but that classroom and those people became a safe space. I shared my poetry, which I had never done before, and in turn listened to my peers share their deepest and most important thoughts. I loved everything about it.
And then somebody else came along who gave me an undying hunger for more. This one was not a teacher at school, but the one and only Edgar Allan Poe. I wrote off Poe’s writing for most of my high school years because it seemed that he was everyone’s favorite poet, like a default answer in case someone thought to ask about your favorite poet, but my tune quickly changed when I bought a complete collection of all his works at a thrift store in the-middle-of-nowhere, Tennessee. I read The Fall of the House of Usher five times that first day, taking notes in the margins of the dusty pages and writing/revising my thoughts countless times afterward. I realized that Edgar Allan Poe is only a cliche favorite because his poetry is easy to fall in love with. He’s a favorite because he’s that good. That was the first time I sought out and analyzed poetry for myself; when it was not done for the sake of an assignment, but because I hadn’t gotten enough of it at school.
Of course many people inspired me to write and impacted me in their own ways, but these three are truly whom I have to thank for taking a stubborn poetry-hater and turning her into a passionate poetry-writer.