I came across this article (http://mobile.onmilwaukee.com/ent/articles/poetryhate.html) posted on the website OnMiluakee.com. It attempts to answer why people hate poetry. Some of the reasons given are simplistic, such as poetry is hard, but I do think the article comes up with some sound explanations, including that people have been exposed to a lot of bad poetry. Ed Makowski, the author of several poetry collections says, “There’s a lot of bad poetry. Much of it sounds like written down babble from a support group that somebody got on stage to talk at people. ‘I’ve got my five minutes here on this open mic and I want to make sure I confess every failed relationship or each time I was disappointed in my life, thanks for sitting there and taking it.'” I’ve been to too many open mics where this is true, where the poetry was written five minutes before sign-up time, or the reader goes way, way over the allowed time.
The article also provides some good advice for those unsure about poetry. Jennifer Benka, the former managing director of Poets & Writers, says, “It’s helpful to think about a poem as more like a painting. It is an art object that requires reflection, which requires a willingness to investigate and empathize and time.” Her quote is probably my favorite piece of advice given in the article. Yes, poetry does require a lot of reflection and time. Don’t expect meaning after one shallow glance.
There is one explanation left out of the article that I wish was explored, and that is the way poetry is taught. Too often, especially in high school and sometimes in college, poetry is taught like a math equation, where it is reduced to a mere series of beats and meter, pinned to the board and dissected. I have found this teaching method to be used by teachers or professors who have very little knowledge of poetry, but still have to fit it into the curriculum, so they teach nothing contemporary and reduce the craft to pure technique and equation. A few times I have taught an intro to literature course, and my students groaned when I told them we would be spending weeks on poetry. When I asked them to write about their experience with poetry, they wrote down horror stories of previous college classes or high schools classes in which all they did was dissect meters or circle metaphors in poems. No discussion of how they could or could not relate to the poem. No background given on the poet. Nothing taught to them other than the typical canonical poets. No opportunities given to write their own poems.
There are so many poetic schools out there that it’s likely something will click for the student and reader after more exploration. As poetry professor Susan Firer says, “There are many poetries. When someone tells me they don’t like or ‘get’ poetry, I just assure them they haven’t found their poetry yet.”