I found you, alone, in the book store. In a quiet and secluded corner. Between the shelves of self-help, bibles and the multiple shelves of graphic novels, you were there waiting for me to touch you. To hold you. Oh you, the poetry section in my Barnes & Noble bookstore.
I remember when I was younger, my trips to the bookstore always involved a stop to the poetry section. I loved holding volumes of great work by master writers. It made me feel smart. I didn’t have much going on for me, but smarts, I had that. Plus, I was involved with poetry and writing classes so I always pretended that maybe one day I would have a collection next to Eliot or Poe. But what I have noticed through the years, my beloved section of great poetry has shrunk. Sometimes even just relegated to an end section of the row that faces the massive collection of Rosetta Stone language CDs.
Poetry just doesn’t seem to contain the wonder, the smarts, the dreams that it once did. The respect of it is being lost on the general reader. And if you want to make a living writing, it is not going to be writing poems, that’s for sure. Most novelists that do happen to dabble in poetry tend to do it as an exercise for their brain to begin writing their novel. I’m no expert here, but what I can deduce about myself and my future in writing is……I’m just screwed.
Let me indulge you on a little secret here, I don’t tell many people that I DO write, and more rarely will I tell others that I write poetry. There seems to be a stigma attached to someone writing poetry. And if I’m not a Nobel laureate or the official White House poet, then the reaction I get from the few that I have had told is one of “well that’s a nice hobby” and then they probably assume that I just don’t have my shit together. What has happened to the art of poetry?! Well let’s face it, to the general reader, poetry has just become a cliché. The idea of poetry is a yawn, something that is only reserved to your college or high school literature class. To others, it’s just a stream of words together on paper to form one long run-on sentence. And no wonder, since I have seen “poetry” being done on The Bachelorette as a group date activity (I may or may not watch that show, on Monday nights, when my husband is gone bowling. Don’t judge me! There is nothing else on at the time)!
The biggest complaint I hear from readers of poetry is that they just do not “get it”. And a lot of people just don’t ever get exposed to poetry. True, poetry mostly does not lay things out for you, sometimes it just barely shows you what the meaning of the poem is, unlike novels that show through telling. Yet, what is great about poetry is that the meaning isn’t always in your face. There are nuggets hidden in the words, the spaces, the rhythm and sometimes rhyme. It is an art form. Let’s take painting and sculpting. Now they build some of the greatest architecture to house these pieces of art. Painters and sculptors take a long time, sometimes months creating their crafts. How would it be if painting all of a sudden became acquainted with a paint-by-number project? Then the art of painting would lose its panache, its spark, its greatness and wonder. I see poetry that way. When poetry is relegated to the far reaches of the bookstore, or alone in the basement with Milton and a red stapler (Office Space reference anybody) and the poetry that people are exposed to today is cliché and repetitive, no wonder it loses its admiration. That makes me sad.
So what exactly is the take away message here…..I’m not sure. I write poetry because I love the form. I do it because my alter ego Dark Jedi/Gothic Queen has something to say. I read and write poetry because I love how the minimalist of words can create a feeling in many that is different. I love constructing and deconstructing our language and telling a story in a way that’s quaint and wonderful. Words are awesome.
I would love to see more people reaching for a book of poetry like I did when I was younger. Explore Shakespeare, question Whitman and wonder what the hell is exactly Yeats writing about. Some poets you will like, some you won’t. But when you find that poet or poem that sings to you, that says what you have felt, it’s amazing. And like all good things, it takes practice.