April is National Poetry Month, and it makes me reflect on how people seem to perceive poetry.
They think it's hard.
I can see that. People think if you read poetry, it's because you "get it." There's some sort of key you must carry around your neck that unlocks the mystery that is a poem.
And yet they never seem to think that about prose, whether it's novels or non-fiction. (James Joyce is an exception.)
Despite my degree in poetry, or maybe because of it, I can tell you: there is no mystery.
Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. Sometimes it's good, other times not. And the best part about it? I could be wrong. I listened to people speak about a poem I wrote like it was an incredible piece of literature and I laughed: it was simply a poem about my cat. It was a good poem about my cat, and I could see why they went where they did, but it wasn't what I intended. That's the magic about it: sometimes a cat is just a cat, and sometimes she's a lonesome, disconnected besheret lingering in the shadows at midnight.
I recommend my favorite book of poems: The Moon is Always Female by Marge Piercy. Whenever I'm tense or in a situation where I need comfort from the written page, I reach for this book. I get it, and I am not alone when I am with Ms. Piercy.
So, in honor of National Poetry Month, I give you a poem by Billy Collins I stumbled across while perusing The Writer's Almanac. I think it captures the angst of reading poetry. Enjoy, and go read a poem!
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
by Billy Collins
from The Apple That Astonished Paris. © University of Arkansas Press, 1996.