There’s no doubt about it—the realm of literature is massive. Whether someone reads the classics, popular modern novels, or texts for school, chances are that most people are currently in the middle of at least one piece of writing. The written word is how we learn and how we communicate. Armed with a pen and paper, we assimilate information, phrases, new words and ideas, and more. Unfortunately, poetry is usually excluded from this list of important types of literature to read. It’s something that people might peruse once or twice, but rarely develop a passion for or give serious treatment. Poetry is so much more than entertainment for the “those few” who enjoy it. So why read poetry, anyways?
There are so many benefits to reading poetry. First, it can improve one’s vocabulary. Especially for poets who try to rhyme, word choice is extremely precise and important. If a certain meaning is desired, but must also rhyme with another word, the thesaurus is a poet’s best friend. While perusing different synonyms, unusual choices can be discovered and sometimes make it into the poem. Even if you think you know the meaning of a word, poets may use it in an unconventional way, causing the readers to learn a new way of using that word. For example, in the poem “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot, he says,
“Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.”
Not only does this poem contain a few words I didn’t know when I first read it, Eliot also included German, which exposes the reader to a wider variety of linguistic expression. Sometimes, something about the culture that language belongs to can be learned.
Secondly, poetry helps its readers improve their in-person communicative skills. When writing a book, the author may write in a straightforward way. They seek to communicate exactly what a character is thinking and doing at all times. Of course, there are benefits to be gained from reading a book, but poetry benefits its readers on a whole different level. Poets frequently use more complex vocabulary and often prompt their readers to consider an obscure meaning to their poem. In other words, readers must carefully decipher and dig into what theme the poet tries to express. For this reason, those who read a fair amount of poetry, may find that communicating ideas, thoughts, or opinions in real life comes easier to them. Since these readers feel comfortable deciphering a simple meaning from a complex stanza, communicating their thoughts to others in a variety of ways proves less of a challenge.
Thirdly, poetry is like a universal language. We can learn about what life was like centuries ago, understand more about other cultures, and see the world from another point of view. Poetry is one of the oldest forms of writing—even fiction stemmed from poetry. As cultures changed, poetry continued to be recorded, showing different aspects of their respective lives. Language changed, mannerisms changed, and their world changed… yet modern readers can still experience these old cultures and look back in the past through poetry. It essentially offers readers a window to another world, era, or life. Even for those who couldn’t care less about history, poetry helps people today understand each other better. Whether the author has different age, race, or religion from their readers, poetry offers a way to explain their viewpoint and unique experiences in a way that normal conversation sometimes can’t.
For those who like writing poetry themselves, reading poetry is extremely important. Experienced language-learners know that immersing oneself in one’s target language can quickly improve one’s comprehension and fluency. Writing poetry without reading it is like trying to speak French fluently with no prior experience. When poets who don’t read poetry by other writers set out to write their own, they often rely on forced or repetitive rhyming schemes. Reading poetry from experts like Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, and Emily Dickenson is like getting a free master-class on something one might love to try oneself.
Poetry bridges the gaps between any group of people no matter their differences. If someone dislikes poetry, chances are that they’ve only read a little and haven’t given it a genuine chance. With the wide variety of excellent poets to choose from, I’m confident that even the most skeptical reader will find a poem they enjoy This summer, I challenge my readers to read at least three pieces of poetry, each in a different style or genre (haibun, free-verse, clerihew, etc.). They don’t have to be the size of a novel! Just explore the world of poetry and see what happens! Have a blessed summer!
“Waste Land.” Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47311/the-waste-land-56d227a99ddeb