What do you think of if I say the words iambic pentameter? Did you just wince? It’s okay. I’m not judging. That term tends to bring up unwanted memories of sitting in a stuffy classroom listening to some professor and wondering why anyone needs to know the difference between a sonnet and a villanelle.
We ought to purposely have more poetry in our lives. A poem can be like a tiny island rising up from the ocean of our everyday hustle and bustle. It welcomes us onto its shores as we get out of our wave-tossed boats to rest on the soft sand under a whispering palm tree and just breathe for a moment.
It’s such a shame that reading poetry is something most people do only under duress. I understand how this happens. We’re force fed certain kinds of poetry when we’re in school, and the formality of it tends to turn us off. It’s confusing in its forms, rigid in its rules, and full of archaic language that we can hardly understand. It’s downright intimidating.
Or, is it?
The funny thing about poetry is that it sneaks into our lives every day, without us even noticing. Every song lyric is a poem—from Bob Dylan to Imagine Dragons to Tupac (especially Tupac). When you sing along in the car, you’re singing poetry.
Almost every children’s picture book is a poem. Some rhyme. Some don’t. But each is a sort of poem.
And if you’re on Facebook or Instagram, I bet you’ve come across your share of poems in disguise. Sometimes, it’s an excerpt from an actual poem. Sometimes, it’s a poetic caption written to accompany an image or a quote from someone like Ram Dass. Sometimes it’s a line of poetry that has made its way into our day-to-day conversational language: To err is human; to forgive, divine (Alexander Pope), How do I love thee? Let me count the ways (Elizabeth Barrett Browning), Do not go gentle into that good night (Dylan Thomas), The lady doth protest too much, methinks (Shakespeare), and so on.
The brevity of most poems makes them the perfect form for our busy lives. It’s not easy to make time to read a novel, but a poem can be savored in less time than it takes you to make a cup of coffee.
Don’t let their small size fool you, though. Poetry is a powerfully condensed form of expression. A poem is the boiled down essence of a thought or an experience. It attacks all our senses and sensibilities at once, overwhelming us with an immersion that is made more intense by a lack of logic or a linear flow.
Once a poem catches you, there’s no telling what will happen. You may be flung back in time or feel that time has stopped still around you. You may laugh out loud or weep for no reason you can explain. Poetry is experience and emotion distilled into an elixir of insight and transformation. It is a catalyst for creating epiphanies and new perspectives.
And there is a poem for everyone. From Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein to Tennyson and Maya Angelou, the world of poetry contains every possible style of human expression and touches on every imaginable topic, theme, and story. And despite this wealth of diversity, there are, you may discover, more similarities between Emily Dickinson and today’s slam poets than you might expect. In the end, they are all tapping into the same wellspring.
It’s easy to give yourself the gift of poetry. There are many email subscriptions for daily poems from places like The Poetry Foundation and Poets.org. You can even find poem-a-day playlists on Spotify. Or, you can go analog and pick up a poetry anthology to leave by the coffeemaker. Flip it open to a random page and see where it takes you. You may be surprised at what worlds await.
Jamie Lee Wallace I am a freelance content writer, columnist, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. For more from me, check out the archives for the Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy posts. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
This post originally appeared as a column in the Ipswich Chronicle, and subsequently on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.