Why Poetry Is Worth Reading

Poetry has a bad rep. It’s Wordsworth’s fault. It used to be the major point of literature when the novel was considered a novel way of writing. Novel means new, original, fresh. But originally it was looked down upon as something unworthy of anyone’s time. ‘How novel.’

These days, the novel has risen to the height of literature, whereas poetry has kept to minority. Many people will only have read poetry because they had to in school or study it in college. It’s hard to want to read poetry because people tend to think of the cliché of ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ to be what poetry is. Hence why I blame Wordsworth.

When I was in uni, I read a lot of poetry because I studied Literature. I read the Romantics, such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, etc. But, for some reason, I turned to the 20th Century American poets (the Beat Poets) even though I wasn’t studying them. Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, etc. I found I liked most American poetry because they tried new things. The new, original, and fresh ideas poetry was having in 1960s USA was incredible, even when I first read that first line of Ginsberg’s Howl: ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked […]’. I loved it.

I found myself reading other Americans during this time, especially Sylvia Plath and Charles Bukowski. I remember mentioning these two in an essay because they’re both completely different, but similar in a way. Plath writes in complex metaphors, very precise and allegorical. Bukowski writes about very mundane, trivial things without any kind of rhythm at all. But they’re both entirely confessional and revealing that both are so interesting to read.

Two of my favourite English poets (from the top of my head because I know I’ve probably forgot some) are Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin. But I’ve found myself turning more towards the Irish poets now. Heaney, Yeats, Muldoon, etc.

The thing about poetry is how easy it seems but, in reality, how difficult it is. As writer, I enjoy writing poetry because they’re short little pieces of writing which I can get on the page faster than a piece of fiction. Someone said (I can’t remember who) that writing poetry is like cardio for the mind. Sounds a bit silly, but writers should take it into account, because it does act like a kind of exercise. When I read poetry (or even when I listen to it) it makes me want to write. It gets you into the creative moment faster than a novel would.

Saying that, even though I write poetry, and sometimes I can write them quite quickly, I realise they’re harder to write than they seem. When I look at a Ted Hughes poem, and look at each individual line, I think to myself ‘How the hell did he think of that?’ But at the same time, it pushes me to write more, to break the boundaries and to see there are so many things to say and so many ways to say them.

This is something I wrote a few nights ago:

Touch the sand
with your palms

feel the grain between
thumb and finger

the ribs of your prints
scraping them,

moulding to powder,
dust to be blown away

into the sand beneath your

It was just an exercise to write a few poems out of nothing, and I liked this one. It originally looked something like this:

Touch the sand with your palms
feel the grain between thumb and finger
the ribs of your prints scraping them,
moulding to powder, like powdered glass
dust to be blown away into the sand beneath
your palms.

What I was doing was looking at some poetry and thinking to myself what I want to write. For some reason I had the image of sand in my mind, so that’s what I started with. I’m sometimes reminded of the poem ‘Garden’ by Sam Willetts because of the slow rhythm that sounds soothing like a self-help book.

So, when I wrote this, I liked how it sounded and how it turned back on itself on the last line. I separated the lines to break it up so it read better and looked good on the page.

Now, it wasn’t Wordsworth’s fault that people now look at poetry as something to do with daffodils, and I’m not saying to just go out there and read Bukowski. I think poetry should be read as widley as novels. They’re short, profound and intelligent that all come in a variety of styles. I was blown away by ‘Daddy’ by Sylvia Plath, and ‘Three Oranges’ by Charles Bukowski. ‘Howl’ by Ginsberg and ‘Strange Fruit’ by Seamus Heaney. Poems tell stories in a particular way, and this way stays with you for a long time.

Michael Holloway

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