The Big Read Blog (Archive)

The Potency of Poetry

When I was a kid, I would spend entire days writing stories of sneaking into museums in the night or flying to Mars. I was always imagining some great adventure, and felt that I was destined to share these stories. If you asked ten-year-old me what I thought I would grow up to be, the answer would undoubtedly have been "author." I pictured publishing my books, designing the cover art, and writing the back blurb that would give readers a sense of what was to come. I bound copies with yarn; I edited and printed the pages on my family’s computer. I was ready to write fiction.

But as I grew, so did my writing. I found it harder and harder to complete stories. I jumped from narrative to narrative. There was always something else I could be writing. The fact that I couldn’t finish anything was terrifying at first---I thought it was over---never mind, I won’t write. I was stuck in that one format, that one genre, and thought there was nothing else out there. It wasn’t until recently that I began reading poetry, and discovered that it was exactly the medium I had been looking for.

I wasn’t taught poetry in high school, and summer reading lists didn’t include any collections. The only poetry exposure I had until college was that of the late great Shel Silverstein---an amazing poet, no doubt, but not someone I was inspired by. My introduction to poetry was delayed, and I wish that I could have learned to love it years ago. Now, I can’t go a day without writing down a quick line of what I hope will be my next poem. I picture publishing my chap book, designing the cover art, deciding how the poems will be arranged. I bind copies with yarn; I edit and print the pages from my laptop. Poetry opened the window that fiction somehow stuck. Carl Sandburg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, also saw poetry as an opening of sorts, saying: “Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during the moment.” This quote captures the visceral and elusive experience of poetry; it allows the poet to say so much in such little space. There is infinite freedom in that space.

This year, communities across the country will build meaningful experiences with poetry thanks to the Big Read Initiative. The Arts Endowment believes it is important to read as much as possible, and celebrates this by showcasing a variety of writers, genres, and cultures. By including the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Robinson Jeffers to its list of works, the Big Read allows people of all ages to hear, read, and discuss poems that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Joseph Joubert once said, “You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some of it with you.” Not only can verse open new paths to literature and creativity, it can instill a dewy-eyed sense within. Open those books, open those windows, and breathe in the words.

Add new comment