Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ode to Poetry

I am not a big fan of poetry. It’s not something I pick up to read for fun. I know relatively little about the genre apart from what I learned in school, and even that is fading since it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve been inside a classroom. I don’t write poetry, and whatever I have written is not any good (trust me). I’m not even really sure I’m qualified to judge what makes a good poem or a bad poem because a lot of poetry makes my mind go blank with confusion. I read it, and all I can think is “Huh?” It’s hard to either hate or love something when you can’t comprehend it to begin with.

Hence why I haven’t really talked about poetry on the blog before, but I think I would be remiss if I didn’t because poetry is a part of my reading experience. Why now? Well, I recently discovered the iF Poems app, which you can read all about at And despite my lack of enthusiasm for poetry, I can’t get over how great it is. Honestly.

For those who don’t know, iF Poems is an educational app geared toward kids that contains an impressive collection of classic poems to read AND listen to (available for iPod/iPod Touch and iPad). The audio for the app is performed by British actors Bill Nighy, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hiddleston, and Harry Enfield. In addition, you can record yourself reading a poem or even write your own poetry through the app.

The feature that most attracted me to the iF Poems app was the audio. After listening to a few audio samples, I decided to buy it. Because if there is one crucial lesson I’ve learned, slowly but surely, about poetry it is this: Poetry is better learned and understood when you hear it and it is read well. The iF Poems app services this by providing just that—great poetry read well, conveniently downloaded to my iPod.

Sometimes I regret that I don’t know that much about poetry. I once signed up for a poetry class in college, feeling that I needed to learn more, but due to low enrollment, the course was dropped and I had to choose another class. That in itself was sad because it was an indicator of a lack of interest in poetry generally. And it’s not exactly a best-selling genre at the bookstores, to be honest. So is poetry a dying art? Actually, I don’t think so. My answer may surprise you, but upon further reflection, I think you and I appreciate poetry a lot more often than we realize.

Consider, for example, my love for musicals. If you were to ask me who my favorite poets are, I’m more likely to say Rodgers, Hammerstein, Gershwin, or Berlin rather than Shakespeare or Frost, though they’re pretty good too. What poem can boast a more pure, elegant, and simple lyric than the song “Edelweiss”? Or the melancholy loveliness of the Gershwins’ “Someone to Watch Over Me”? How about “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz? Christmas carols are another good example, both the traditional ones like “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “O Holy Night” and popular ones like “White Christmas” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.” So are church hymns. “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace” are arguably some of the most beloved songs of worship in history.

And what about the songs you hear every day on the radio, or the ones you have stored on your trusty iPod alongside that nifty iF Poems app? I may not know much about modern poetry, but I hear it sung to me every day. Not all of it is great, but so what? And maybe I still don’t get what some lyrics mean, or I get some of the lyrics wrong, but who cares, as long as you can sing along to it? It’s an evolving art form, constantly changing, and always growing. There’s new poetry coming out on iTunes all the time. Because, yes, songs are a form of poetry.

I repeat what I said at the beginning: I do not particularly enjoy reading* poetry, but I do like listening to it. This distinction matters. Maybe I am a fan of poetry after all.

*Some poems that I like to read:
“Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne
“Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost
“If” by Rudyard Kipling
Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”) by William Shakespeare
“Hymn to the Night” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson