I Hate Poetry…So I Read a Poem Everyday For a Week

If you haven’t read my last blog post, let me get you up to speed. I hate poetry. I hate reading it, I hate the way it makes me feel, and I have always avoided it. So for one week I tried to force myself to confront it head on and read (I feel queasy just typing this) for fun

My choice of poetry for this week was almost entirely based on those ‘poems everyone should read lists’ which ultimately was not the best idea when it came to the enjoyment factor of this challenge. But these were poets I had always shied away from, and I wanted to prove myself wrong. I wanted to show myself that I could understand them.

Saturday –  “Auld Lang Syne” (1788) by Robert Burns  

This was one of those poems that came up on list after list as being one of the greatest poems of all time. I have certainly raised a glass of wine to Robert Burns on Burns Night before without thinking twice, but I’ve never read any of his poetry. And so – much like weed – I saw this poem as a gateway drug into the world of Burns’ poetry and this challenge itself. 

After some frantic googling of what language this poem was written in, I began to join in with Burns’ chanting about ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and unpicking the meaning behind the stanzas. It made me strangely happy in a way that this poem is sung on New Years Eve – that a poem can just be cheerful and merry. One to share with friends rather than ripping your hair out over. 

I didn’t love it – but I also don’t think it’s necessarily the type of poem that you love in that way. Instead I was left feeling warm inside, and in the need of a drink. 

Sunday – Shakespeare’s Sonnets 

Shakespeare’s sonnets have always scared me. They are daunting and terrifying to someone who can barely seem to grasp the most basic of ideas. So when I initially read Sonnet 27 and Sonnet 18 I felt like giving up. I just didn’t quite understand where he was going with them. What he was trying to say. And the same sickly feeling of my eyes glazing over and my brain giving up started to creep over me. 

But I tried to take a deep breath, look with clear eyes, and read again. 

Resisting the urge to Google an analysis of the poems, I took these poems line by line. Re-reading the words so painfully slowly that I thought my brain might explore. But when I finished with all 14-lines of Sonnet 27 I looked back down at my page and noticed the dense clutter of scribbles and annotations. True, I was still relying largely on picking up alliteration and oxymorons, but I actually felt like I understood it a little more. It didn’t feel so oppressively inaccessible. 

I was less successful with Sonnet 18, but this was less of a let down. I was happy that I had ever attempted to read his sonnets – something that I have almost always entirely shied away from completely. Something about me and Shakespeare does not click, but rather than completely listen to my brain telling me to give up I persevered. 

Monday – Kubla Khan (1797) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge 

What is going on? This was the first question I asked myself as I read through this poem. Again, the dread washed over me. Great, I still don’t understand anything that is going on. But determined to prove myself wrong, I read it again. And again. And then turned to Google to help. 

Perhaps my favourite part of this poem was simply that Coleridge was so off his rocker from opium that he wrote this whole poem. Nowadays this would be in the drunken notes section of my phone which I add to when creativity strikes at the bottom of a wine bottle. 

By this point I was severely wishing I had chosen some different way to plan this week. None of these poems were speaking to me in any kind of way. They didn’t make me want to read them ever again let alone analyse them further. But I had really wanted to be able to think of creative things to say about them. I had wanted to like them because they sound like the type of things that people who like poetry do. 

And again I find myself in this cycle of doing things for very performative reasons. I chose these poems because they would make me sound smart. But they have kind of already made my point for me. This is no way to read. 

Tuesday – Ode on a Grecian Urn (1820) by John Keats 

I liked this one! I liked a poem! I understood a poem! I understood a poem by Keats! 

This was a really cool way of looking at our mortality by making the subject something immortal, and it was the type of poem which actually made me take a step back and ponder. I had never thought much about the artefacts in museums, the long lives they have endured and survived. How they will outlive us all. 

It gave me some slight hope that perhaps this poem thing is not a complete flop. Perhaps when I discover the right poets everything will just click in my brain for once and for all. 

Wednesday – Harlem (1951) by Langston Hughes 

As we slowly creep into the modern day, I am feeling as though these poems are more accessible and less daunting. This very short but evocative poem was an interesting read about both the individual and collective struggle to achieve ‘the dream’. Reading around this poem was almost just as crucial as reading the poem itself, and it did make me interested in potentially checking out his other works. 

Halfway through the week now and nothing had really jumped out at me. Nothing had really clicked yet. I felt myself wanting to give up hope. Maybe I had shown myself that if I applied myself to reading poetry that it would get easier with time, but I also hadn’t fostered any kind of love for it. 

Thursday – Still I Rise (1978) by Maya Angelou 

I really liked this poem. As someone that never had the pleasure to study this in school I was really excited to finally read a poem that I had heard so much about. I thought it was beautifully crafted, with an incredibly powerful narrative voice. There was a relentless sense of strength, and a dominance over the discourse which aided the central message so well. There is nothing up for debate in this poem. She will always rise.  

Fri – “MCMXIV” (1964) by Philip Larkin

I liked it – it was an interesting look at the aftermath of war without truly addressing it. However, the only line that truly felt like it reverberated in me was the last one. ‘Never such innocence again’. There seemed something haunting and ghostly in that one. 

This week I fell into my own trap. Fell straight into the very thing that this blog was designed to combat against – reading things because you think you should, not because you want to. With some more research I may attempt this challenge again – this time with poems I think I will actually like. Ones that coincide with my own beliefs and interests. 

But from this week I gathered that poetry was not wholly inaccessible – I just wasn’t making much of an attempt to access it. 

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