I’m taking a poetry class this upcoming fall semester when I begin graduate school. I must confess I am terrified. I’m not against poetry, but I freely admit I usually do not understand it. It just doesn’t always jive with me or click. That said, I do write poetry of my own, and I do enjoy that, but that’s because it’s my poetry and I like my poetry because it’s my poetry and I like myself. But even so, any attempts at poetry occur rather infrequently. I’ve been writing poetry with intention for a little over fourteen months now, and I haven’t even filled a fourth of a Moleskine. I believe we could label that a tortoisal pace. But this does not bother me. Here’s what does bother me: The class I’ll be taking is modern poetry. This increases my concern.
It’s not that older poetry is any less intimidating. Far from it, actually. Whether it’s Browning, Byron, or Milton, the elegant, flowery, linguistic gymnastics of older poetry are a riddle in and of themselves. It doesn’t matter if you’re throwing iambic pentameter, sonnets, or limericks at me; I will perpetually have the hardest time digging out the meaning. Some people relish slogging through the intricacies of poetry. Who are these people?
But modern poetry is its own frightening beast in the sense that most of the conventions have been thrown out the window. Part of me loves this because I believe if there’s one thing poetry should exemplify, it’s freedom. I love free verse. But that doesn’t mean I get it. When you’re reading older poetry, moments of confusion are frequent, but when you’re poring over, say, Ginsberg, those happenings of utter bewilderment seem to increase fourfold.
And here’s what’s frustrating: Someone—like the professor—will come along and explain what’s going on in the poem, and suddenly everything makes sense, a sort of, “How did I not see that before?” revelation. And then you feel stupid, especially when you’re watching the professor while he’s explaining it, and you can tell he is just loving how he gets to wrestle with poetry and get paid for it. He loves going toe to toe with the lines of verse to extract some nugget of beauty or truth or challenge. This is when my upper lip curls and an eyebrow rises in disgusted confusion. How can this guy be enjoying this?
To each his own. I have a healthy respect for poetry. I do. I just usually don’t enjoy it. And that’s okay. While professors past and future adore that swing set in the playground of literature, I do not. I much rather prefer the tire swing of short stories, the monkey bars of Southern fiction, the curlicue slides of postcolonial literature. But bear this autumnal burden, I will.
Not to completely rag on poetry. If it weren’t for those classes, I never would have discovered the few poets I do enjoy reading. And so I suppose you can’t say it’s all for naught. If I begin to sound like I am saying such a thing, stop me, for it will only be words of foolishness.