1. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England

    I can't read poetry

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Oct 20, 2015.

    I wanted to post this in the poetry section - for obvious reasons - but sadly there doesn't appear to be a section for 'general' poetry discussion, so I'm posting it here.

    I have a real problem with poetry, in as much as I don't understand it. When I read fiction, I can judge when it is good fiction, and when it is bad fiction... I'm familiar with the 'rules', I can see how the structure of a sentence might be improved, etc etc.

    But when I read poetry - or at least try to - I have absolutely no conception of whether it is good or bad. I know when I read a poem I like, but beyond that I have no understanding regarding the various types of poetry. More so, because I'm so familiar with a particular type of poetry (the type where the final word of each second line rhymes with the one before it) I try to read all other poems using the same rhythm and end up tripping over words or emphasising a word expecting it to rhyme with one in the previous line, resulting in a 'brick wall' in my head when it fails to rhyme as expected.

    Here's an example of the type of poetry I'm familiar with. This is the kind of poem I can read.

    Suicide in the Trenches
    Siegfried Sassoon 1886 - 1967


    I knew a simple soldier boy
    Who grinned at life in empty joy,
    Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
    And whistled early with the lark.


    In winter trenches cowed and glum,
    With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
    He put a bullet through his brain.
    No one spoke of him again.


    You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
    Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
    Sneak home and pray you'll never know
    The hell when youth and laughter go.


    --------

    Now, first off it may help if I know what kind of poem this is. Is it a limerick, or is that term specific to humorous poems?

    Now, an example of the type of poem I struggle to read:

    Bombardment
    Richard Aldington 1892 - 1962

    Four days the earth was rent and torn
    By bursting steel,
    The houses fell about us;
    Three nights we dared not sleep,
    Sweating, and listening for the imminent crash
    Which meant our death.

    The fourth night every man,
    Nerve-tortured, racked to exhaustion,
    slept, muttering and twitching,
    While the shells crashed overhead.

    The fifth day there came a hush;
    We left our holes
    And looked above the wreckage of the earth
    To where the white clouds moved in silent lines
    Across the untroubled blue.

    -------

    It's not just that this second example doesn't rhyme, I simply can't fathom the rhythm at which I should read it. I can't 'feel' it and therefore don't know where or how I should be emphasising.

    And what's more, if it doesn't rhyme, what qualifies it as a poem beyond the formatting? To me, it just reads like a ramble, split into short sentences.
     
  2. ddavidv
    Offline

    ddavidv Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2013
    Messages:
    353
    Likes Received:
    240
    Location:
    Pennsylvania, USA
    I don't get poetry either. I just can't read it. I suppose I'm simply too literal.

    I liken poetry to art: you either get it or you don't. I don't get most art but there are those odd pieces that will grab you and won't let you go. I imagine poetry is probably the same way. The difference is I have to read poetry which requires effort while I can just look at a painting and instantly decide if I like it or not. Most art is lost on me and so is poetry.

    A pity, but we all can't like everything. I like bluegrass music and most people don't. I don't see it as being any different from art or poetry. I also don't understand why people will ruin a good piece of pie with vanilla ice cream.
     
    Adhulari likes this.
  3. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    I often wonder if poetry is designed to be heard, not read.
     
  4. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I think you're overthinking this. There are some poems you aren't going to like. That's perfectly fine. Start with poems you like, and reread them multiple times. Try to learn something new with each read. Pay attention to word choice, structure, meter, etc. Once you get that down, branch out a bit. A poetry anthology is a great way to read a wide range of authors and styles. Like anything else, reading poetry takes practice and patience. Eventually you'll have a much better understanding of what makes a poem good or bad (keep in mind that your personal preference is going to play a huge part in determining this). Hope this helps.
     
  5. nastyjman
    Offline

    nastyjman Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2010
    Messages:
    317
    Likes Received:
    136
    Location:
    NYC
    Do you read it out loud? When you read it out loud, you get to feel the rhythm and the pace of the poem.
     
  6. Tenderiser
    Online

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    4,288
    Likes Received:
    5,159
    Location:
    London, UK
    I feel the same. I don't know a good poem from a bad. I voted in one of the poetry contests and then I felt bad because it might been the worst one... in the end I think mine was the only vote for it. :p
     
    OurJud likes this.
  7. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    Yes, but it still doesn't help me find the rhythm for, let's just say free verse, for want of a better description, such as the second example I posted.
     
  8. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,791
    Likes Received:
    7,307
    Location:
    Scotland
    I'm not crazy about most poetry either, and I had to teach it for a while. Ack. However, every now and again I run across some that I really do enjoy. It's usually something short and very pithy, or a longer poem that tells a good, recognisable story. I can't really tell one kind of poetry from another. I mean, I'll recognise a limerick, or a haiku or a sonnet ...but most other forms just don't get inside my head. So don't feel like the Lone Ranger, @OurJud.
     
    OurJud likes this.
  9. xanadu
    Offline

    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2008
    Messages:
    552
    Likes Received:
    407
    Location:
    Cave of Ice
    I've never been much of a poetry person. Although, as a kid, I must say I did love the Shel Silverstein stuff I read in school.
     
  10. Adhulari
    Offline

    Adhulari Member

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2015
    Messages:
    61
    Likes Received:
    40
    I feel so relieved. I felt like an idiot, not understanding or particularly liking poetry while having joined a writers forum. I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one, haha!

    I think it works really well in music though. But reading poetry just like that on paper? Can't do it.
     
    OurJud likes this.
  11. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    It's far better to listen to, I feel.

     
  12. AlcoholicWolf
    Offline

    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2013
    Messages:
    268
    Likes Received:
    141
    Location:
    Moldova
    Poetry is important to any writer. It shows you how to bend words into different meanings. Even if you don't particularly enjoy it, reading it should be rewarding.
     
    Foxe, jannert and nastyjman like this.
  13. nastyjman
    Offline

    nastyjman Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2010
    Messages:
    317
    Likes Received:
    136
    Location:
    NYC
    Here's another, narrated by the late and great Christopher Lee.



    Happy Halloween! :twisted:
     
    Robert Musil and OurJud like this.
  14. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,791
    Likes Received:
    7,307
    Location:
    Scotland
    I admire it sometimes. But I can't say I enjoy reading it, as a general rule.
     
    OurJud likes this.
  15. ManOrAstroMan
    Offline

    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2012
    Messages:
    817
    Likes Received:
    342
    Location:
    Missouri
    I like *some* poetry. To me, poetry should be a step removed from music, in that it should have rhythm. This doesn't necessarily mean it has to rhyme, but it should be structured in a way that the syllables have a definite cadence and an almost mathematical balance. A haiku is a little different, having built-in syllabic requirements, so the challenge there is artistry within the boundaries of the art form.
    A lot of freeverse bugs me because it's presented in a way which is completely arhythmic, and often very pretentious. Slam poetry, in particular, to me, is more like an extremely short essay.

    And the poem you posted is not a limerick. Limericks follow an AABBA rhyme pattern, and rely, usually, on bawdy humor. Eg:
    "While Titian was mixing rose madder
    His model reclined on a ladder.
    Her position, to Titian,
    Suggested coition
    So he climbed up the ladder and 'ad 'er."
     
  16. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    That's one long assed poem!
     
  17. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    That's all well and good, but what if you don't know how to read it? If you don't know how to read it, how can it be rewarding?
     
    tonguetied likes this.
  18. ManOrAstroMan
    Offline

    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2012
    Messages:
    817
    Likes Received:
    342
    Location:
    Missouri
    When what you're used to is more structured poetry like Angelou, Shakespeare and Dr Seuss, free verse can be tricky to "get."
    Honestly, it's kind of hard to explain "how" to read it, so the best thing I can suggest is YouTube. If you're looking for how a poem should sound when it doesn't have a rhyme scheme or a set structure like a haiku, it might help to hear a poem being read by the person who wrote it. Then you can hear how it was meant to sound.
    Note: you might want to include words like "award-winning" so you know you're getting a good one.
     
    OurJud likes this.
  19. nastyjman
    Offline

    nastyjman Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2010
    Messages:
    317
    Likes Received:
    136
    Location:
    NYC
    @OurJud

    Here's another that doesn't have rhyme or meter, but it's beautiful to read as well as listen

     
    OurJud likes this.
  20. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I forgot to mention in my earlier post that just because a poem looks simple doesn't mean it's easy to understand. A good poem will often have lots of subtleties that require time and effort to appreciate. At the same time, a poem that looks complicated may not really be saying anything meaningful at all. Like I said before, reread the "easier" poems, and see if you can extract something new from them after every read.
     
    nastyjman likes this.
  21. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,791
    Likes Received:
    7,307
    Location:
    Scotland
    Mind you, Robin Robertson's The Wrecking Light is one of the most gripping books I've ever read. Especially the last poem in the book, called "At Roane Head." And I'm partial to some of Norman McCaig's poetry as well. And a few others. But it's just not something I gravitate towards.
     
  22. Robert Musil
    Offline

    Robert Musil Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2015
    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    218
    Location:
    USA
    Agree with those upthread saying that poetry is meant to be spoken, not read silently. When I was in college my roommate read me some e. e. cummings once, a poet I previously couldn't stand, and after that I really saw cummings (and poetry in general) in a whole new light.

    At the risk of sounding snobbish, I think we as Anglophones have a bit of a built-in disadvantage when it comes to poetry. Honestly, modern English just isn't a good language for it. I imagine it has something to do with trying to mash Romance vocabulary onto Germanic grammar, it's like trying to square the circle.

    If you want some great poetry, learn Arabic and read some Mutanabbi or al-Jahiz.
     
  23. Foxe
    Offline

    Foxe Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2011
    Messages:
    141
    Likes Received:
    44
    Location:
    Canada
    I don't remember what got me into it, but learning to read and write poetry contributed to creating stronger prose.

    A poem is more than just the meaning or feeling you catch on first read. Each word is deliberately chosen, so if you come across a line you don't understand, you can be sure there is meaning to be found with a bit of searching.
     
  24. Tella
    Offline

    Tella Member

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2015
    Messages:
    85
    Likes Received:
    28
    Oh man, it's so hilarious whenever "nevermore" appears in Cristopher Lee's reading, then there's that dramatic music. The strings rising are so funny.
     
  25. davidov
    Offline

    davidov Member

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2015
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Bangkok
    I reckon poetry without form (ie. free verse) is designed not to be judgeable - just like modern art is unjudgeable having freed itself from all the rules (who can say whether Rothko is actually any good?). It's a kind of scam. Real poetry has form and is much more difficult to produce, and that effort results in more pay-off for the reader. Free verse, if you ask me, if really prose with pretentious line-breaks (the p-word is always disparaged, but there, I've said it).
     

Share This Page