I wished I liked poetry – please don’t think less of me

I wish I liked poetry. But I don’t.

I’m sorry.

I understand why I should like poetry: condensed thought, rich with imagery, a purity of form.

My friend at university described it as: a thought, distilled until there is nothing left but what is necessary to perfectly express it.

I like that. That definition appeals to me.

Poems, however, do not.

I understand the adoration among literary types; why they include their favourites in long-form work. It’s not to show off (as I had cynically assumed in my youth), but because they found genuine and visceral inspiration within those lines. Inspiration that I am unable to draw upon. That upsets me.

I often thought I’d have to incorporate a poem into a novel to be considered a serious writer – but, of course, that would mean reading poems. And I honestly can’t think of anything worse.

I am sure many among you will be disappointed in me. I attract a writerly bunch to the pages of this humble blog, many of whom pour their souls into poetry, and bear it to the world. I am not for one moment lambasting their art. This is not a cry of disdain, but a yell of jealousy.

I really do wish I liked poetry. Poets, you have my admiration.

This art is fine, I guess

Alas! My relationship with poetry is the same as my appreciation for fine art – there’s a barrier of perception erected around revered works, and a supposition of emotional intelligence with which to divine the intentions of the artist. This is my grievance; either I glean meaning from the work, and therefore believe it obvious or trite; or I cannot fathom the obfuscated metaphor to turn it from abstract to idea. In my frustrated ignorance, I grow weary of the piece, or the artist, or the form, and believe them all pretentious.

That last word – pretentious – is an interesting one, for it often reveals more of its user than those it is intended to deride. I recall seeing an art installation through a shop window in Buenes Aires many years ago; it was a wall of breeze blocks about two metres long, but arranged as though a wrecking ball had dashed it across the gallery floor. I laughed. Breaking walls down with your art, are we? I thought, with pompous cynicism. Metaphor manifest! Did they really come up with that, and not once stop to think: Is this not a bit on the nose?

I could not imagine at the time creating something more lazy and facile, besides a sculpture of a man crying bestride a spilled carton of milk; or a stone with two sets of birds’ feet sticking out like the Wicked Witches; or a painting of a dictionary, whose one thousand strokes, when inspected in greater detail, are revealed not as brush strokes, but words! Gadzooks! A picture crushes a thousand birds with one spilled milk carton.

Ugh – but I reel from that tone. It’s ugly. For in that squeal of mirth, pretention lies, like the cackle of a failing teacher, laughing at the dreams of those they deem the least gifted. “A doctor, James? Ha! A comedian more like! And what about you Bethany – not a hairdresser? Or a waitress? What’s that? An archaeologist? Ha! I shall eagerly anticipate your appearance on The Only Time Team Is Essex!”

So, either I am the pretentious actor in this macabre play, or I am the emotionally illiterate drone, too addled by the internet to comprehend a creator’s masterful vision.

Bohemian breadcrumbs

To help, I tend to only look upon artwork that has a detailed plaque against it. In other words: clues. If I am stood before a twelve-foot sculpture of a woman made of rotting plums holding aloft a melting Bible and a white-rimmed fedora, I want at least a name to thrust me down the right track. Is this post-feminist anti-intellectualism? A critique of agro-agri-food practices? An homage to Michael Jackson (well known for his fondness of plums)?

I used to think art was in the eye of the beholder, but it’s not. It was created to coax some ethereal response from its onlookers, and if it fails to do that – with me specifically – is it then shit? Has it failed?

Or am I the failure, for not perceiving its glorious message?

So it goes with poetry. Too often I come a cropper amid the arbitrary breaks of a stanza, lost in obtuse language, broken syntax, ruptured grammar. Thick layers of meaning envelope this nugget of knowledge on the page, and I am at a loss to peal each back, for as I do, I strip away what it once was – an emotional incitement. Good poetry should evoke something besides frustration.

A novel approach

Granted, my exposure to poetry is almost exclusively from the pages of a novel, and is therefore steeped in context, being both preceded by introduction and followed by reflection. I have never, lamentably, read a book of poetry. My god – to think not only does it happen, but enough for books to be printed and distributed and sold, and at no point in the process is anyone duped as to the book’s contents. It says it on the cover, in the blurb, and upon every page with nary a paragraph to be seen. A book of poems.

God, I really do wish I like poetry. I really do. Pour that plunderous language into a paragraph and I will drink as at a spring of immortality. Finish sentences with punctuation, and I’ll bite my knuckle with repressed intoxication. Take me on a journey upon which I have little choice but to feel as you felt in the telling of it; make your thoughts become mine, your eyes my vision, your taste my desire, your touch, my sensation. Let me hear it, as though with eyes closed I could just as well be there.

That is the connection I crave between writer and reader. And with subtlety and guile you’ll hold my hand so softly I’ll wonder how I came to be in such a place, almost of my own free will, observing my influenced imagination as though it were my own.

What a trip! And such an admirable aspiration. I still doubt my ability to ever reach such dizzying splendour. But I will endeavour to crest that impossible peak, and I will know I have succeeded when that first reader says to me: I fucking get you, man.

Take me with you

An author scales a mountain, quarries a path around its slopes to the summit, and then promptly disappears. A reader follows that path, and enjoys great satisfaction in discovering a view so unique it makes them believe they themselves blazed that trail.

Conversely, a poet describes a rock, or a soul, or a whisper, found or sensed upon the path, and directs your attention to its glistening edge, or ethereal divinity, or hushed delivereance, as though there is nothing else besides. And after inspection, the poet stands expectantly, hands on hips, awaiting your epiphany with impatience. Tell me what you think it means, sonny. He inhales on his liquorice-paper cigarillo.

How does it make you feel?

Thanks to Studio Reasons on Unsplash for the title image. Apologies to the model for associating his face with pretentiousness.


15 thoughts on “I wished I liked poetry – please don’t think less of me”

  1. You’re not alone. I used to try reading poems a few times a year, just to see if there was something I could connect with, but as I’ve grown older I have become comfortable knowing there are some things I will never love. The trick is being okay with it, knowing that you’re not stubborn or ignorant, just that you know yourself and what moves you in the directions you prefer to be moved.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah. I follow a few writers who churn out a lot of poetry and I feel bad for immediately dismissing it, but I’m not going to pretend I like it. I’ve never been the person who lets children win games to feel good about themselves either. I always felt they should learn to lose, and then improve on their skills to legitimately win.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I like some poetry. I love how they can put a feeling into words. But some poems I don’t understand and then I can’t enjoy them. I always mean to read more poetry but never get around to it. There are people who don’t like reading, I love reading, that’s just the way it is everyone is different and we shouldn’t expect people to like everything

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are certainly exceptions. I rather like Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, but I wonder if that’s more because it’s a kind of story, a vignette with apocalyptic overtones. It also taps into something I’m very interested in, namely mortality and leaving something behind. Ozymandias, the king of kings, might well be mocked for his short-sighted hubris, but with his statue, and Shelley’s poem, he lives forever.

      It is entirely possible I am just not reading the right poems…


  3. I love poetry, but can understand people that just don’t get it. Maybe it’s something in the brain and how we perceive words?
    Wait, does that mean you don’t like Shakespeare?? I mean, he does tell a story (scales a mountain of you will – lovely comparison), even though it rhymes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, love Bill – that’s where my argument all comes tumbling down (though I never did care for the sonnets).

      A friend responding to this blog mentioned spoken poetry, beat poetry etc. And honestly some of that is astonishing – perhaps it is more in the performance than anything. Similarly Shakespeare.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I have difficulty with poems, push me, pull me into reading them, abandoning them halfway through, bored, glassy-eyed, ears drumming from the repetition. Then every once in a great while, I am rewarded.

    I find I enjoy epic poems more than others, the last great poem I read was “Omeros” by Sir Derek Alton Walcott. It is a Homeric epic poem set in the Caribbean and is loosely based on Homer’s Illiad. You might give it a try.

    Sadly, like you, I feel like I am cheating myself in some way by not enjoying poetry more. It is even more frustrating when others call my writing “poetic”. I wonder if that is a compliment or a slight.

    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the recommendation! I’ve read Homer and Virgil, but Omeros sounds really interesting. I shall have a look…

      And yes – it is paradoxical that we might aspire to poetic writing. If I could write like Ray Bradbury, I’d be very happy indeed, he was a master of beautiful prose.

      Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh man. Same boat, dude. Poetry is often so baffling to me, and it is equally baffling to me that when I tried to write clear poems, my poetry teacher was not impressed (it didn’t help that he was neither teacher nor instructor, but that’s a rant for another day).

    I decided recently to study conventions of poetry or other peoples’ interpretations to learn whether there is a lens through which I can better understand the language and structure. Maybe then I can parse it for myself. But I fear I’ve got a long road, and series of podcasts, ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

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