Why Study or Write Poetry?

I’m a fan of poetry. I read it, I write it, I talk about it, write about it, and share it as often as I can. I’m also an advocate of poetry being taught to students in primary, secondary, and higher education, even if English isn’t their major.

Poetry offers a lot to the students that study it. Like other literary forms, poetry allows students to analyze and critically engage with the text, but poetry offers something other literary forms don’t—conveying meaning with as little words as possible.

The point of poetry is to convey an image or impression with controlled, specific, and brief language. While I can tell you a story in broad, complex, compound, or complex-compound sentences, poetry shies away from grammar conventions and tries to construct a new meaning of words through the misuse of grammar conventions to make the reader really slow down and contemplate what is being said within the poem.

Reading poetry is like solving a puzzle—and often times, that single poem can paint many true and varying pictures. Developing reading and critical thinking skills through poetry makes one an overall better reader, and these reading skills can be transferred to other realms as well. Being a critical thinker that can see multiple outcomes to the task at hand is a very marketable skill.

Writing poetry is also different than writing a story. Understanding the nuances of poetry can help one become a better story teller because it allows the writer to convey the same message or meaning with fewer words, but it can also help an author make better choices in diction, add rhythm to enhance the flow of a story, and give another layer of meaning to a text that can be picked up on a second, third, or fourth read of the work.

Let me tell you a story:

When I woke up this morning, I saw a news story that said that there would be an eclipse that would cause a blood moon in the sky starting at 11:59 p.m. and then extending into the wee hours of the morning. I was excited. The name “blood moon” painted an image of a dripping red sky—an image I thought only happened in movies or novels about werewolves. As the time approached, I sat in my backyard and waited for the blood moon to rise. It was chilly out and grew colder as the night wore on. At about 2 a.m., the moon was in full eclipse in the sky, yet my excitement was waning because of the lack of blood red. Where was it? Instead, the sky was just as dark as ever and the moon appeared to be a hazy shade of orange—like an orange soda someone had put a cigarette out in. I went to bed, thwarted, and let my blood moon lust fade into the muddled night.

I tried to do a few poetic elements within this story to enhance the mood while I was telling it. First, I used a lot of words with a “w” sound to them, to enhance the idea of “waning” excitement and the “thwarted” blood lust. I mixed the sentence length up in this piece as well, to try to make the reader slow and quicken their reading to keep their attention on the work itself and not let the reading become too easy so they could glaze over details by reading too quickly or get bored by reading too slowly. I made a lot of deliberate word choices to relate back to the falsehood of the blood moon, such as “werewolves.” Because like the blood part of the blood moon, there are no such things as werewolves. I also made a deliberate choice in using the world “hazy” and connecting it later with the image of an orange soda with a cigarette in it—hopefully connecting the idea of smoke to the hazy image of the moon. The imagery, pacing, and word choices in this short story (and true story, I might add) were enhanced, I feel, by the poetic elements I focused on within the piece.

This extends outside of creative writing too and into academic and expository writing as well. If I’m writing a paper, I like to have fun with my word choices and make sure I’m using all the language I’m putting into my academic efforts as effectively as possible. Likewise, when I’m writing a resume or sending an email with instructions, I’m better able to communicate what I mean in concise language because I have studied and written poetry and know how to be concise yet specific with my words.

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