Poeme'en - Why are people scared of poetry?


Why are people scared of poetry? Susan Omand has a theory...

I think I know why poetry is avoided by so many. Why people are either scared to approach it themselves, or poke fun at the people who do like it, and it's because they imagine it to be "too high brow and poncy", "too difficult to understand" or "not their thing".

I believe it all stems from how you are introduced to poetry. For most people this is in the classroom, therefore I believe that for poetry to be enjoyed by the masses, it should no longer be taught in schools as part of the normal curriculum.

There, I said it. No more compulsory poetry in the classroom. I'm not saying it shouldn't be offered in schools at all but the shuddering memories of reading the same 6 verse poem every English lesson for 3 months, dissecting it line by line, word by word and, worst of all in my view, being TOLD what to think about it and how to interpret it has made poetry a no-go area for a lot of people. And that is a shame.

I've been very lucky. I've had poetry in my life since I was very very small. My mother and I read a lot of poetry together before I was school age. From saying nursery rhymes before I was one, on through the children's poems of AA Milne and Robert Louis Stevenson, to discovering Shakespeare when I was 12 and spending hours with the song lyrics of teenage years, I have grown up with poetry all around me. But I truly understand why some people cannot and will not read anything that is called poetry. Even now I cannot read any of the war poets, our prescribed reading for O Grade English, without great difficulty and a bad taste in my mouth, even though I want to be able to enjoy them and I feel that I am missing out on a lot by not including them in my reading list.

So what to teach instead? I think my own enjoyment of poetry comes from a love of words. Not just what they mean but the words themselves. How they sound when you say them, either in your head or out loud, what they look like when they're written on the page and how they sit beside other words. I realise now that most of you are either on the floor laughing at me or searching for the white padded jacket with the nice buckles on so I won't advocate teaching that in schools (although it should be considered). What could be done though is exposure to words and to poetry, without having to do the full indepth interpretive study of each and every syllable and nuance. Just have it around the place.

I mentioned song lyrics. Everybody has songs of some sort in their lives, without fail. They do not realise that all song lyrics are poetry. From the simple rhyming repetition of the modern pap... er... pop song, through the rhythmic cleverness of rap, to the highly flowery and fantastical language of progressive rock's operatic albums, it's all poetry of a kind because songs are just poems put to music.

Having said all that, remember that you don't have to like it all but all I'm asking is don't be scared to give some a try. From laugh out loud funny poems to ones that make you physically cry, there's no thing and no feeling that doesn't have a poem about it. There will be something you like. To my knowledge, reading or listening to a poem will not kill you (even though the Vogons tried) so at worst you'll spend a few minutes in your life that you'll not get back but at best you'll discover a wonderful and entertaining world you had closed the door on back when you were a child.

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