Is poetry really worth reading?

Parlindungan Pardede

Universitas kristen Indonesia

Poetry, the oldest literary genre, has been created since 2000 B.C. when the Sumerians produced oral poetic works, like “Epic of Gilgamesh” and the ancient Greeks and Romans produced great epic poetry such as Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” and Hesiod’s “Works and Days.” during 1200 B.C. to A.D. 455, while fiction was invented in the 12th century in England. Although it is much older than fiction, why does poetry get less readership than fiction? According to National Endowment for the Arts(2018), there were 126.5 million (41.8%) of American adults who read novels or short stories in 2017, but only 27.9 million (11.7%) read poetry at the same year. In 2008, 47% of American adults read novels or short stories, but only 8.3% read poetry. Data concerning fiction vs poetry readership in other countries is not available. But it seems that the preference for reading fiction than poetry also occurs in other countries.

From the readers’ perspective, why do people prefer fiction to poetry? Various discussions have revealed various reasons why many people do not favor poetry reading. I am not a poet. I’m just a reader who loves some (only some) types of poems. I this article, I’d like to discuss six most common arguments used as the reasons shying people away from poetry and briefly evaluate their underlying rationale: (1) Poetry is boring, (2) Poetry is difficult, (3) Poetry is frustrating, (4) Poetry is too disconnected from reality, (5) Poetry is too rarified, and (6) Poetry is too slow.

Poetry is boring. To a higher extent, someone who states poetry is boring might have not tried to read a proper number of poems from which he can choose the ones that attract his interest. Poetry is about life. It’s topics concern with all life experiences—actual or imaginary, beautiful or ugly, practical or philosophical, noble or shameful. If one is interested in sports, many poems about sports are available. If he is interested in politics or love, numerous poems to these topics are easy to find. Best Poem Encyclopedia, for instance, provides thousands of poems of hundreds of topics. In terms of forms, poems are also varied. Some poems are narrative, others are descriptive, and some others are lyrical. In terms of types, poetry can be written as an elegy, ode, ballad, or epic.

Some people may argue that they prefer something more active and interactive, and poetry does not facilitate it. This argument is also based on a misunderstanding. Like other readings, poetry reading is not a passive activity. It is an interaction among the poet, the text, and the reader. In a proper poetry reading, the reader empathizes with the character, he feels as if he is involved in the character’s situation or feeling. To make your reading more interactive, why don’t you share what you read with one or more friends who also read the same poems? Besides, poetry reading can also be very interactive when it is read aloud before an audience. In short, poetry reading is not a passive activity. 

Poetry is difficult, it takes time to understand. It’s undeniable that some (not all) poems are difficult and necessitates repeated reading to understand because, since a poem should be short and written in a certain structure, the poet needs to compress information in a few words and suits the linguistic elements to the structure. To achieve this, poets need to use figurative languages, carefully select the diction and distort some language patterns. Thus to get the meaning, the reader should pay close attention to every detail, including the structural elements (stanzas, rhythm, and rhyme), literary devices (images, figurative languages), the poet’s point of view, and the poem’s mood and tone. Reading a poem is different from reading a newspaper or a blog article that one can scan or skim. Reading a poem is like entering an unfamiliar house. In the first trial, you need to open the door. When the door is open, you need to survey the living room first and then the other rooms. After that, you try to look at the ceiling, wall colors, furniture, etc. Understanding poetry requires repeated reading. It may be hard at the beginning, but it gets easier after a few reads. And the more poems you read, the easier for you to understand the next works. 

Another thing to note is that no deep reading is easy. Reading a novel, a textbook, or a scientific article is also tough. And don’t forget that to grow you need to deal with tougher reading. Apostle Paul says that milk is suitable for babies, but adults …

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