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A Month of Poetry

For the USA, April is National Poetry Month. For thirty days, we celebrate the value and joy that poetry brings to our world.  According to the Academy of American Poets, the goals are:

  • Highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
  • Introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry
  • Bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways
  • Make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum
  • Increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
  • Encourage increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books
  • Increase public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry

When I was in high school, I was forced to learn poetry. I didn’t want to, saw no benefit to it, and unfortunately, the teacher didn’t change my mind. All that analyzing meaning and deconstructing stanzas went right over my head. Worse, selections such as Beowulf and anything by Elizabeth Barrett Browning seemed unrelated to my life and goals. Poems I loved like “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, “The Raven”, and “The Road Not Taken” were rare. It wasn’t until University, where I discovered that poetry speaks the language of dreams, that I fell in love with it.

Thankfully, today’s teachers communicate poetry’s essence much better than what I experienced.

What is poetry?

When many think of poetry, they visualize flowing groupings of soulful words as pithy and dense as a fruitcake and for some, just as (un)appealing. I’ll get back to that in a minute, but first, here’s a definition (from Wikipedia):

an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content.

You are most likely to recognize a poem by its truncated lines that rarely end in a period (though this isn’t always true), the rhythm created when reading it, the liberal use of literary devices such as alliteration and similes, and its ability to tell an entire story in a very (very) few stanzas. A good poem not only communicates with words but with emotion, senses, and memories, it gives a reader permission to interpret the content in ways that speak to his/her dreams. It may ask a question or answer one but always, it encourages the reader to think.

Origins of poetry

The word “poetry” is from the Greek and rightly so as most historians agree it began in ancient Greece as a way to record cultural events or entertain listeners. It predates written text and back then, provided a colorful oral tradition where storytellers could relate tales or events either verbally or by singing. It also might have provided an easy way to memorize this information.

The two oldest surviving poems are the “Epic of Gilgamesh” written around 3000 B.C.E. and “Beowulf” written around 1000 B.C.E. The most famous poems are Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” and everything by William Shakespeare.

Why learn poetry?

Poetry is as much about the beautiful connecting of words as it is about rhythm, musical sounds, and verbal beats. Listeners may not understand all the verses or the meaning of the stanzas, but they’ll feel the cadence and want to read more. If poetry were a song, the words would be the notes, stanzas the lyrics.

The most powerful reason to learn poetry came to me only after I’d read hundreds — thousands — of poems. Poetry quite simply is another method of communication. Often, those who have difficulty conveying their ideas with traditional words and paragraphs have no problem when their thoughts and feelings are put to the beat of a poem.

A seminal reason for poetry is that it nurtures creativity. If you feel stifled expressing yourself with the four-syllable words and paragraph-long sentences of academic papers, poetry may unleash you. In an era where creativity has become one of the most sought-after skills, nothing does that better than poetry (well, there’s music — I’ll talk about that another time). Imagine the joy of discussing intricate ideas simplistically through well-chosen, carefully-arranged poetry. As any writer knows, there’s no better feeling of accomplishment than putting on paper what rattles around in one’s brain.

The most utilitarian reason to learn and teach poetry is one of the most popular in schools: Writing poetry is good practice. When composing poems, writers gain command of language, cultivate a robust vocabulary, master literary devices, and learn to express themselves with imagery. 

Types of Poetry

There are three main categories of poetry: narrative, dramatic and lyrical.

  • Dramatic poetry is quite simply, drama written in verse. It’s a narrative in which characters use poetry to convey ideas and conversation. Shakespeare is probably the most recognizable example.
  • Lyrical poetry is a short, highly musical verse that conveys powerful feelings through the use of selected rhyme, meter, and literary devices that create a song-like quality.
  • Narrative poetry tells a story in metered verse. It does not require rhyme and includes genres like ballads and epics.

These three main categories often overlap. For example, an epic poem can contain lyrical passages or lyrical poetry can contain narrative parts.

Within the three categories are dozens of genres. Here are some of the most popular:

  • acrostic
  • ballad
  • cinquains
  • couplet
  • epic
  • free verse
  • haikus
  • limerick
  • odes
  • sonnets

Each genre follows its own set of rules that dictate structure, number and length of lines, number and length of stanzas, metering, and rhyming. None is better than the other, just a different way of communicating ideas. I won’t dig deeper into each but you can find detailed descriptions here.

Indie Poets You May Not Know

I write fiction but enjoy poetry immensely for how it makes me dig into my thoughts and emotions. Here are some great Indie poets I’ve run across as I tour the blogosphere:

Bette A. Stevens, Maine Author--oh my, how she shares the beauty of Maine is amazing

Emotional Shadows–with Balroop, where all emotions are cared for

DL Finn, Author--I didn’t know Denise wrote poetry until I read this post; just lovely

Robbie’s Inspiration — Robbie writes poetry and fiction, both with her own personal voice

My Window–poetry is how Miriam shares her life

@poetsorg

More websites about poetry:

Glossary of Poetry Terms

Rhyming Dictionary

TED Talk on Poetry: Why it is Important

Yemenite Jewish Poetry

Epic Poetry


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Man vs. Nature saga, and the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021. 

82 thoughts on “A Month of Poetry

  1. ‘When many think of poetry, they visualize flowing groupings of soulful words as pithy and dense as a fruitcake and for some, just as (un)appealing.’ Loved this. So well said:)
    I don’t think any writing is as expressive as poetry. Denise and Balroop are two of my favorite poets.
    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great book about poetry and its meaning, Jacqui. Thank you for the shout out too. The Listeners by Walter de la Mare is my favourite poem. This is a link to the Youtube video if you are interested in listening to it. So mysterious and wonderful: vlKgIXHETmU

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thank you for this post, Jacqui! First, I was going to skip it (I’m very much behind with my blog reading and emails), but my eyes lingered and I ended up reading your entire post and learning so much from it.

    I had no idea that you were interested in poetry. You are so versatile! Do you write it as well as read it? There is much to be said for compiling entire stories, ideas, thoughts, and feelings in poems. Less is more here! I love your line “there’s no better feeling of accomplishment than putting on paper what rattles around in one’s brain.“

    What did you think of Amanda Gorman‘s “The Hill We Climb” on President Biden’s inauguration? Talk about powerful and mind-blowing poetry!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When I am terribly moved, i instinctively write in verse. It is more free verse but I find it soothes my troubled soul. Using less words to express emotions is quite difficult and to keep it in some kind of metre, rhyme and rhythm is not very easy either.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this post, Jacqui! I don’t read nearly enough poetry, and I’m dreadful at writing it. I studied a lot of it throughout my life, and I incorporated a lot into my second and third grade teaching. I was a fossil ~ I actually had my kiddos memorize a few short poems. I usually had the kiddos share their skipping/jump rope rhymes and raps, and always poems they had written and wanted to share. I was fortunate to attend literacy conferences where I met a number of children’s poets ~ like the incredible Byrd Baylor. Her “When Clay Sings” is a book I will treasure always. She wrote lyrical poetry in picture books for children.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing your love for poetry Jacqui. I give all credit to some of my teachers who explained poems with panache and made me love them as well as poetry. Many thanks for mentioning my name with indie poets. Love and hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My tenth grade English teacher showed me structure and meter and it really appealed to my nature. I think if a math teacher had been able to approach me right I might be a totally different person now.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My journey was opposite of yours. I loved poetry into college. I have several books by different poets (my favorite is still Frost, though), and my first poetry professor (Dr. Costanza) even encouraged me to publish some of my work. (I have two published poems because of him.) Then I had Professor Daniels. The guy and I DID NOT get along and had VERY DIFFERENT views on the art. He sucked the joy out of poetry for me. To this day, it hasn’t returned. I don’t read or write it anymore. Maybe someday the pleasure will return, but every time I try, I just remember the misery of that last class.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I feel in love with poetry after attending a couple of readings just after college. BTW, you have poetry in Scripture, especially the Psalms. You even have different types of poems there, including acrostics, but it’s sometimes harder to see in translation (How do you translate an acrostic from one language that have fewer letters than the language to be translated?).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think you know the hobby horse I ride when it comes to poetry. It is meant to be experienced, not analyzed to death! Analysis can be useful to enhance one’s understanding of the poem, but the experience has to come first. I would add ekphrastic poetry to your list of popular genres. I think it’s become even more popular lately because the internet allows so much access to images and works of art.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jill. And you’re right about the Indies. I have a better appreciation for good poetry from these folks that some of what I read in high school (Shakespeare excluded, of course).

      Like

  11. Dear Jacqui,
    I just like this poetical works you don’t seem to like, the epics of the middle ages like Beowulf but more so Gottfried of Strassburg’s “Tristan und Isolde” and especially Wolfram von Eschenbach’s “Parzival” and Hartmann von Aue’s “Der Arme Heinrich” as all texts of Kretien de Troyes and very much the love poetry of the 12th and 13th c. as collected in the manuscript of the Manesse brothers.
    But it’s strange I can relate only to very few modern poets. And it get worse if I look around in social media like WordPress here. It seems to be that people have forgotten that poetry is about the rhythm and flow of language. If they write a text in strange lines they call this a poem.
    By the way, I wrote my thesis about the late poetry of Bert Brecht (which is published as book by a Swiss printing company) and methods of analyse poetry with structuralist methods.
    Wishing you a great weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • I love Beowulf. I tried to read it in the original but the language has changed so. I then read a translation which was wonderful. Still, I learned a lot about language from the original and that I think was my teacher’s intent. I do like poetry with structure, rhythm, flow best. I like feeling as though I’m being carried along rather than challenged. Thanks for your thoughts, Klausbernd!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Jacquie, I am enthralled by your post where you give such clear and inspiring news about poetry. It makes my heart so glad. To my knowledge we have no Poetry month
    whilst you take this way of writing seriously.
    I will keep this post to refer to when spirits flag.

    Thank you also for your mention. Had never thought about it but realise you saw more than I. 🤗.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I’ve just bought a handful of poetry books by some of my favourite indie authors – and they’re arriving today. I mostly buy Kindle books but poetry needs to be read from a ‘proper’ book or you can’t appreciate the shape of the words on the page. Poetry on WP works too.

    Liked by 3 people

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