Poetry and Me: It’s Complicated

Much like a 14 year old’s facebook relationship status, my relationship with poetry has always been complicated. And since studying English Literature as a degree, everytime I have had to study poetry it’s been like seeing an old crush that never made it past the talking stage. 

I’ve just have never truly been able to understand it. 

Sometimes even the most basic poems leave me perplexed. It’s like I’ve been placed onto a construction site with no tools or equipment. More often than not I stare blankly at it before writing the basics down. Metaphor. Simile. Rhyme Scheme. 

These annotations fill my page until I feel satisfied that it looks like I’ve understood the work. However, inside I am left still just as empty and confused as before. In seminars I listen to people pick apart vowel-sounds and meter, while I sit back and try to hold onto this rollercoaster which is moving too quickly for my brain to comprehend. I short-circuit and leave with my head hanging low. 

I’ve tried – trust me I have – to understand poetry. And yet no one has ever truly clicked with me. I can stare at the writing on the page and still feel the same kind of dread as the words jumble together. 

It makes me feel stupid. 

Like I’m fifteen again in the back of my English classroom trying to pretend I understand what’s going on. At least back then all they wanted from you was similes, alliteration, and refrains. Now they dig so deep – like archeologists – while I stare blankly into the hole. How can I break this cycle of surface reading?

It also raises an important question for me – why does this make me feel like such a bad English student? It has always been a source of anxiety and imposter syndrome for me. Anytime I see I have to study it I get filled with a sort of dread. Unfortunately, this term has been dominated by poetry and I feel like there is no place to hide from it. 

I am now beginning to realise – even just writing this – that hiding from it is probably only exacerbating the issue. That letting my fear of failure is only going to hinder me more. Like any skill, reading poetry is something to be refined and learnt – not everyone has it innately. 

To a certain degree, studying English can be as formulaic as other subjects. You need certain skills and certain criteria in order to carry out analysis. And with each form of writing, you need a different tool kit. A new experiment. It can be frustrating to not know how to access this. I’ve tried reading theory books on poetry – how to read it, how to understand it, how to write about it – but the words get jumbled. 

I think I am holding myself back. I’ve told myself that I won’t ever be able to do it. 

The only way to confront this is to force myself to read poetry. To write on poetry in my essays. And most importantly to accept that I don’t fully understand what I’m doing most of the time. 

And so for every day for the following week I am going to read a poem and try to push my boundaries with each and every one. In my blog post next week I will share the results and see to what degree of success I managed to potentially learn to love – or at least tolerate – poetry. 

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