I’ve said on here before that I don’t “get” poetry. I never really studied much at school (which is perhaps a blessing in disguise as it hasn’t been killed by analysis for me) but it’s left me with a whole area of literature that completely scares me off. So when I saw that Writers’ Centre Norwich were running an event on How to Love Poetry I signed up like a shot. After a false start when I got the date wrong and nearly went a whole month early, I finally made it to an upstairs training room in the Forum library with about 10 other people, most of whom already knew a lot more about it than me.
The group was led by Julia Webb and after running through what poetry is – stripped down narrative, an emotional response, a way of conveying an image or idea, a snapshot of a moment, and many other things besides – and a few things that it isn’t (or doesn’t have to be) – hard, only for intellectuals and so on – we got down to looking at some poems. The first one my group looked at was the sort of thing that normally sends me running for the hills – argh! I can’t do this! I don’t like poetry after all! – but talking about it together, and especially hearing it read aloud, really helped me to appreciate it and even start liking it a bit.
The main things I’ve taken away from this are a realisation that not “getting” some poems doesn’t mean I don’t “get” poetry. It’s OK to like some poems and not others, or even to like one line or image from a poem and not like the rest.
I also realised that I’m scared off by not knowing how to approach a book of poems. I want to go at it like a novel – start at the beginning and go on until I get to the end. But I need to slow down. I need to read a poem properly, maybe even aloud. It also doesn’t have to be an exercise in finding the hidden meaning. It doesn’t matter if I don’t appreciate the technicalities or understand what makes this a poem and not a piece of prose with line breaks. That whole pared-downness also unsettles me. I’m a long-form kinda gal. I like big thick novels with lots of plot and characterisation and detail. But just as I’m learning to appreciate novellas and short stories, I can learn to love poetry too.
Maybe the poetry anthologies I’ve tried to read before were too hard, or not for me, but there’s so much more out there – I can’t just write off this whole area. So I’ve borrowed a few books from the library and there are the hand outs from the evening to look at too. Maybe what I need to do right now is step away from the computer and pick up one of those and have a look. Dip in and see if anything catches my mind’s eye. I’ll let you know how I get on…