I’ve never been a poet. Although I’m a voracious reader I admit that I never got into poetry. I definitely have poems I enjoy, mostly because they sound pretty or because I heard a fantastic reading of it, and like any writer I’ve dabbled in a poem or two, primarily for my own collection and expression. My poems are mediocre at best. Most fourth graders could produce the same kind given the appropriate breadth of vocabulary and a rhyming dictionary. My favorite poet is Shel Silverstein for heaven’s sake. If you’ve never been introduced to the world of Shel Silverstein, welcome to the world and I’m glad you’ve come out from that rock, first of all. Second of all, he is just a touch more complicated and mature then Dr. Seuss. Less made up words, equally ridiculous topics.
I think my biggest problem with poetry is that I just don’t get it. Not the elemental stuff. The basic elements and structure of poetry I understand just fine. I did pay attention at least half the time in my English Lit courses in school. Meter, rhyme, half-rhymes, alliteration, onomatopoeia; those I get. It’s the second and third and fourth meanings buried within the stanzas that stump me. If the poem is about a tree then I’m going to go ahead and believe the poet was particularly moved by an actual tree. If this poetic tree is supposed to represent a commentary on the inner struggle of the poet attempting to deal with losing respect for his mother after she backed over the family cat with the mini-van, you’ve completely lost me. What was wrong with a poem about a tree? It was pretty until we got into all that. Now it makes me mad and I simply don’t care anymore. Tree, cat, mother, bah. And at any rate, how do we know that what the poet was talking about, particularly if said poet is dead? Maybe it was just about an ever-loving tree.
I also struggle with defining what poetry is. In my head, ignorant it may be, poetry has a rhyme scheme and is normally grouped in stanzas with a predictable meter.
I heard a fly buzz when I died:
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.
From “Dying” by Emily Dickinson
You show me that and I’ll likely say “Oh, that’s a pretty poem.” Several of my friends who claim to thoroughly enjoy poetry (and whom I believe actually do and don’t for one minute doubt either their intelligence or veracity) tell me that what follows is also poetry.
It’s wonderful how I jog
on four honed-down ivory toes
my massive buttocks slipping
like oiled parts with each light step.
From “Animals Are Passing From Our Lives” by Phillip Levine
Ok. I don’t see it. Now this does not mean that I’m saying that isn’t a poem and that poems written like that aren’t good poetry. I’m saying I don’t understand it. I also don’t understand how my car works. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop driving it. Lots of things I don’t understand serve to improve my life in unspeakable, unknowable ways and I appreciate them. I just don’t get them. So you’ll have to pardon me if my expression goes a little blank if you insist I read this “poem.”