On Poetry . . .”Getting it.”

This week’s post was intended to include a few more thoughts on the writing process. However, yesterday I had the good fortune to engage in conversation with an aspiring young writer that resulted in my deciding to reflect on something else.

“I don’t really like poetry.”
“Yeah, poetry . . . I just don’t get it.”

I’ve often heard these sentiments expressed by friends of mine, some of them accomplished writers. Writers of prose. It’s a familiar knock on the genre. It’s the notion that the poet’s meaning is unintelligible, so steeped in difficult metaphor as to be inaccessible to anyone but the most studied, highly-evolved individuals.

And in truth, accessibility is often an issue. I sometimes wonder if there is a conspiracy among certain academic poets to create an exclusive club, membership in which is granted only to those who freight their poems with unnecessary complexity and overwrought metaphor. Poetry need not be written that way. And, thankfully, most of it isn’t.

Still, you can get wrapped up in the academic analysis of poetry. You can attempt to dissect the more esoteric and arcane aspects of the prosody in order to “get it” on an intellectual level. But, ultimately, it’s not about “getting it” in that way.

It’s really more to do with “feeling it.” It’s about relaxing into the imagery; allowing the words to massage the soul. Does the poem make you feel? How does it make you feel? Does it make you think? Does it transport you, if only for a moment or two, to a place of calm abiding? Does it invite you to engage in the present moment, or reflect on something in your past? If so, then you really do get it. And the good news is you don’t need to hold an MFA in Creative Writing or be a specialized critic of poetry to experience the revelation.

Poetry is hard enough to write. So, those of us who work in that realm might as well endeavor to make it understandable. Or perhaps more accurately, relatable. A healthy dose of metaphorical challenge is fine, desirable even. But in the process of writing a poem I endeavor to create both meaning and space. Space in which the reader is free — encouraged, even — to bring their own life experience to the moment. I strive to write poems that express the human condition. It’s a way of connecting with people in a nurturing way. That is what we writers, working in any genre, ought to always keep in the forefront of our minds: how best to make an authentic, heartfelt connection with our readers.

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