Unless you’re currently in high school or taking an English class in college, chances are that you don’t read much poetry. After all, lots of people find it boring, unfathomable, too erudite or pointless.
However, there are loads of great reasons to read poetry. Before you dislike something without trying it, consider these:
Poetry Doesn’t Take Long to Read
Most poems are short (though “epic poems”, like Milton’s Paradise Lost and Spencer’s The Faerie Queen can be longer than novels). You can easily read a short poem or several poems during your coffee break. You can also read them while standing in line at the bank or while eating a sandwich at lunch time.
If you “don’t have the time to read”, try switching to poetry instead of novels. For a lot of people, it does the trick.
Poetry Improves Your Vocabulary
Reading poetry is a great way to improve your vocabulary. If your usual reading material consists of magazines, newspapers, and blogs, you’re unlikely to be encountering any new words.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across these unusual words in poems:
- Amnion- the thin membrane that surrounds a fetus in the womb
- Skedaddle- scram or hurry away (familiar to Americans, but more unusual over here in the UK _
- Chongalolas- a chongalola is a type of tree found in Africa
If you’re studying English, especially as a foreign language student, the vocabulary-boosting benefits of poetry are well worth the time you’ll invest reading it.
Poetry Gives You New Ideas
Like any great writing, poetry can open up your mind to new ideas. You might read a poem from a completely different culture or written by someone much older or much younger than you.
A poem could give you insight into a problem you’re struggling with. Poems use symbolism and subtexts to sneak under the rational mind. They can help you access the power of the subconscious which responds strongly to images and metaphor.
Poetry Shows the World In a New Light
Poets want you to see some aspects of the world in a new light. They can give you an unusual turn of phrase or image that focuses your attention on something in a completely new way. Commonplace objects and events take on a new meaning when tackled by poets.
I choose to ignore my instinct for the sky’s
warning – the way each light flicks out
the strange smell in the air, a herbal brew;
you are crying to go out and the four walls
of the villa are coming in like a fast tide.
– First stanza of “Summer Storm, Capolona” by Jackie Kay
Poetry Makes You Think
If you find poetry hard, be heartened. Reading it stretches your mind and forces you to think. When something challenges, surprises, and even offends you in a poem, that’s helping you to question pre-conceptions that you might have. It allows you to move beyond your comfort zone.
Even if you come across poems you dislike, you can at least figure out what it is you hate about them.
Poetry Is Fun
My ultimate reason to read poetry is simply to enjoy it. Whether you’re drawn into the story, engaged by a fascinating character in a poem, delighted by a beautiful turn of phrase or laughing out loud at a joke, there’s a lot of fun to be had from reading poetry.
This complete poem by Carol Ann Duffy made me laugh. It’s not very different from a joke.
7th April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him –
Something about that chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.
If you’ve not yet found a poet who you love, keep looking. Try asking for recommendations at your local library or bookstore. And if you do have a favorite poet or favorite poem, tell us in the comments!