Poetry is something that I did not always appreciate, so I decided to explore how students view it on campus. To do this, I went to Designated Space two Tuesdays ago — Donkey Coffee’s weekly poetry night — in order to get a poet’s perspective.
As I entered the “designated space” in the shop, I was struck by how similar it was to what I think of as the stereotypical poetry night. Dim lighting, soft spoken voices, and a lone microphone on a stage that is usually home to more tables and chairs. Sadly though, there was no snapping after each poem, which I was looking forward to doing.
While listening to the poetry, I realized asking what makes good poetry to an individual who is well versed in that world, a poet, is always a difficult question. A literary mind cannot just simply present a simple explanation when it comes to describing the craft of constructing a piece of work such as a poem.
First, however, lets be clear about my own views. Throughout much of my young life I saw poetry as bullshit someone who identified themselves a “poet” wrote in order to purposely confuse my peers and me. I still enjoyed obscure music lyrics but that’s different because it’s, you know, music.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school, English. Ms. Nott (my teacher) dedicated the first half of the year to reading and analyzing poetry. At first, this seemed more or less hellish. But something about her approach changed my perspective completely.
Ms. Nott taught us to read the poems through once clean, and then go back stanza by stanza and highlight metaphors, similes, symbolism, etc. It seemed tedious at first, but it quickly caught on and became my favorite thing to do.
Upon doing this with every poem I read, poetry became more than just a slur of abstract phrases glued together to purposely not make sense. Poetry became an art form I began to appreciate.
For me, the poem “I’m Not Lonely” by writer and activist Nikki Giovanni is a good example of what good poetry is:
i don’t dream
and no matter
what you think
i’m not lonely
But still, I could not explain to myself what makes that statement powerful and also what it takes to write good poetry. So I decided to ask fellow OU students what they think are the elements needed for well written poetry.
Freshman pre-engineering major Tyann Carter believes good poetry is when the listener or reader can find similarities between what is written in the poem and experiences in their own life. “When I hear a poem, I think about what could have happened in my own life to connect to it,” Carter said. “A poem may be about a tree but I look for a deeper meaning to it.”
Though seasoned poets do not usually like the term “deeper meaning” because it is cliché when it comes to poetry, it is not entirely incorrect. When a poem is written about a tree, the reader has to go “under the bark” of that tree because the words can be deceiving. That tree could be representing various aspects of the writer’s life and giving those aspects an image personifies them and makes the poem relatable to readers.
People in fields like Tyann’s (pre-engineering) may not have as much as experience as someone with an English or language-specific major on the subject of poetry, but they are still fully capable of processing the elements of a poem.
Going back to my foray into poetry night, I got the chance to talk to junior Ryant Taylor who had just performed at Designated Space two Tuesdays ago. I asked him about what he thought “good poetry” was exactly.
Being a creative writing major, he pondered for a moment but it didn’t last long: “I believe what it takes to write good poetry comes from a good sense of personal perspective,” he said. “That the emotions that the poet is trying to convey are more important than the words themselves.”
Taylor believes this concept is best represented in the poem “For Women Who Are Difficult To Love” by Warsan Shire.
Within this poem, Taylor specifically handpicked the verse:
“you dizzy him, you are unbearable
every woman before and after you
is doused in your name
you fill his mouth
his teeth ache with memory of taste”
Taylor also went on to explain that some modern poetry does not help the stereotypical views some people associate with poems. “There were lines like ‘the sink ran’ and other things that just did not make any sense at all,” Taylor said.
Critical advice Taylor would give to people who don’t “get” or particularly enjoy poetry: “Just shut off your mind and listen to the words, but still try to grasp onto the general concept of the poem.”
Poetry for me, started out as a chore. But through repetition and more exposure to different poets, the seed Ms. Nott planted grew into a beautiful thriving passion. I believe that anyone can learn to appreciate poetry. All they need to do is try to block out their surroundings and allow the poem to enter their life. Maybe by doing so, more people can at least understand the beauty of good poetry.