My difficulty with poems

My favorite artwork by William Blake

I’m going to go on a big tangent here… I generally don’t like poetry (does that reduce my sophisticatedness?). I have friends who love poetry. One has gone on to get an advance degree in poetry of a specific era, another can recite long poems while simultaneously hanging out of a cherry tree plucking the fruit. I’m not like them; if I’m reading something and find the author added in a poem for some reason, I skip it. A book of poems I wouldn’t even open.

This is my only poetry exception (you can skip it if you like):

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

These are the first four lines from ‘Auguries of Innocence’ by William Blake and I love them. Years ago, I saw Sting claim he came up with these lines for one of his songs on an Oprah interview. William Blake wrote this in 1803 – years before Sting (I’m still baffled Oprah didn’t call him on it, I would have but maybe that’s why I’m not on TV). There is much more to the poem, it seemingly goes on forever – the rest can be found here. I must admit I’ve not read the whole thing.

Also, if a story I’m reading breaks out into a few lines of song (like Lord of the Rings does) I skip that too. However, I like some song lyrics, which is kinda like poetry – except without the expectations I built up about poetry from high school English. I used to top my high school physics classes without difficulty, but for high school English I had to put in tones of work just to get by.

Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird has summed up the view high school English gave me of poetry: “Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul.” It sounds lovely in concept, but high school English had tests where I needed to come up with the right interpretation, rather than my interpretation.

Reading poetry became hard work as I felt I needed to look for deep meanings under every snowflake – accepting a snowflake as being just a snowflake (as they are wonderful) just wasn’t allowed.

Ironically, I currently live in a neighborhood where all the streets are named after poets.

The artwork image came from wikipedia

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