Reading poetry is one of the most important aspects of being able to create your own. You could just constantly create and figure out how to improve using some version of trial-and-error, but the consumption of poetry allows for technical exploration and understanding, and most importantly, it can give you permission to say what needs to be said.
The first poet I ever fell in love with was Edgar Allen Poe. I know, I know: All the rhyme and meter and death – how could anyone like that, right? But the thing about Poe is that he was never afraid to write his truth. The man had a bad life, let’s be real, so of course his poetry is macabre and melancholy. Whenever I read his work, I see it in colors – dark blues and scarlet reds, undertones of grey and black. He has a consistency to all of his work, where many other poets experiment with a vast array of forms and techniques, so if you read a piece, you’ll know if it’s Poe. And I liked that bold statement and adherence to identity. He was never afraid to write about the pretty dead girls or the anxiety surrounding murder; he himself had loved an Annabel Lee; he, too, had felt an oppressive anxiety about the world.
On the flipside of this true-to-life poetry coin is Katha Pollitt. Talk about an odd couple. Just as I admire Poe for sticking to his guns, I admire Pollitt for the same reason. Coming from journalism, she has a simplistic, yet hard-hitting style of writing which is unlike virtually every other poet I’ve read. Combine that with her strong, feministic outlook on life, and you’ve got a real winner. One of my favorite poems by her is about Martha and Mary Magdalene, in which she subverts typical views of women and their roles as either temptress or servant. She points out Jesus’ hypocrisy in performing selectively timed miracles, as he doesn’t give Martha an opportunity to sit and listen to him speak. In typical Christian analyses of this situation, Martha is often shamed – even by Jesus himself in the Bible – for not taking a break and hearing what he has to say. Pollitt takes this perspective and uses it to highlight the worship of men and denigration of women in a patriarchal society such as ours. She’s a poet unafraid of backlash and judgment; she, like the subjects of many of her pieces, is a woman unfazed by the opinions of others; she’s a friend to and advocate of truth.
Some of my other favorite poets include Charles Bukowski, Maya Angelou, Marilyn Chin, and of course, the odd little balloon man himself, e.e. cummings. The thing I love most about poetry is the diversity through form, dialect, personal experience, and every other element involved in being an artist. Reading poetry allows us to see life through hundreds of lenses, each their own tint and thickness, and enlightens us to the injustice, beauty, and folly of being alive. In these confusing and bitter times, we can all learn something from the craft of poetry: Our differences are what make us whole.
by Katha Pollitt
Well, did he think the food would cook itself?
Naturally, he preferred the sexy one,
the one who leaned forward with velvet eyes and asked
clever questions that showed she’d done the reading.
You’ll notice he didn’t summon up a picnic
so that I could put up my feet and hear how lilies
do nothing but shine in God’s light. God’s
movie star, he says
we stand in glory, we are loved like sparrows,
like grains of sand: there are so many of us!
He means he stands, he is loved.
The music wells up in a dark theater:
a kiss, a kill, a tumult of clouds and cymbals!
We lift our hands, we weep, we don’t deserve him.
I don’t deserve him. I’m
all wrong, I’m nothing, hurrying home
in my raincoat and practical shoes.
The sky won’t speak to me. But still,
somebody’s got to care about the tablecloth,
and the bread, and the wine.
–Mackenzie Steele, Art Editor