Why and How I Love Poetry, and a Poem

Before college, I never liked poetry. The way I approached it (I’d venture to say the way my teachers taught me to approach it) was as a stale, old, dusty code we were to crack. Each poem had a secret meaning, and the goal was to crack the code to find that one meaning. It was boring to me and often I had a hard time finding that one meaning.

My freshman year of college, I had two roommates who loved poetry. Their approach toward it was so different than the one I had: they found poems they loved and just loved them. They’d share them with each other, and eventually me, and we’d just sit around from time to time sharing with each other poems we liked. There was no code to crack, just love and enthusiasm.

I began scanning the internet for poems that spoke to me in some way. These were mostly contemporary poems: my first love was e.e. cummings. We never really discussed him in school, I think because most people are afraid of his writing, that they aren’t able to crack his secret code. But when you’re not reading for a secret code, when you’re reading for love, there’s no reason to be afraid.

I soon started keeping a notebook of poems I liked. The only rule is that I have to like the poem and that I can’t just copy-paste-and-print it. I either have to hand-copy it or re-type it. If I don’t like a poem enough to do those things, it’s not worthy of my own personal anthologies. At this point I have a notebook and ½ after a little over two years. I go through phases where I add a couple poems a week, and other phases where I don’t add anything for a couple months. The point is that this is not mandatory work for me, it’s love. If it feels like work, I’m not doing it right. The notebooks are cool because I can go back and find poems that I may not be able to remember enough about to find otherwise. It’s also pretty cool to go back through sometimes and re-discover poems I’d forgotten about.

From time to time I’ll post poems I love on this blog. While I can do grade-A New Criticism close-reading explications (English majors will know what I’m talking about by this), in my opinion that only makes poetry stale, and I won’t do that here. It reinforces the idea that there is a secret code that we can crack if we look at poetic devices in a scientific way. I want my readers who don’t already love poetry to find that passion the same way I did. I’ll share things I love with you and tell you why I love them. Sometimes I’ll just give you a poem comment-free so you can come up with your own ideas as you read.

Here’s a first poem for you to sample. I hope you like it as much as I do.

“My Heart” by Frank O’Hara

I’m not going to cry all the time
nor shall I laugh all the time,
I don’t prefer one “strain” to another.
I’d have the immediacy of a bad movie,
not just a sleeper, but also the big,
overproduced first-run kind. I want to be
at least as alive as the vulgar. And if
some aficionado of my mess says “That’s
not like Frank!”, all to the good! I
don’t wear brown and grey suits all the time,
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,
often. I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart—
you can’t plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.

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3 responses to “Why and How I Love Poetry, and a Poem

  1. I adore your love letter to poetry, and I also really, really like the idea of a personal anthology. I might have to start one of my own. And the poem you posted would absolutely be included, with props to you.

    Also, how are you liking Traveling Mercies? It’s one of my favorite books.

    • I highly recommend the personal poem anthology! I’ve enjoyed mine. 🙂 I like Traveling Mercies so far, I’ve just finished the Overture: Lily Pads part, so I’m not far into it, but I really like it so far.

  2. I have found a new appreciation for poetry, and you inspired me to start looking at it a little more often.

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