On Learning to Love Poetry

English: Norwich: inside The Forum Looking thr...

Inside The Forum, home of the Millenium Library, Norwich. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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…

About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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4 Responses to On Learning to Love Poetry

  1. Neil Astley says:

    Delighted to read this account. Writers’ Centre Norwich do great work in this area. I edited an anthology called Staying Alive exactly for people who didn’t “get” poetry and for poetry readers who aren’t familiar with the full range of excellent poetry that’s out there (the needle in a haystack problem). Helen Dunmore called it “A book for people who know they love poetry, and for people who think they don’t.” See http://www.bloodaxebooks.com/titlepage.asp?isbn=1852245883 for details. If you like Staying Alive, there are two later anthologies in what became a trilogy, Being Alive and Being Human.

  2. gurukalehuru says:

    I write poetry or, at any rate, what I call poetry because everybody else seems to be writing something different. Most of it can be read online at http://www.gurukalehuru.com

  3. Pingback: Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott – tentative steps towards poetry | a discount ticket to everywhere

  4. Pingback: On Finding Inspiration in the Unlikeliest Places: Poetry Again | a discount ticket to everywhere

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