How to Read Poetry and Why People Don’t

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We struggle with how to write about poetry at Utne Reader, and it’s not because we don’t read it and love it. The closest we’ve come lately in our pages is an interview with undertaker and writer Thomas Lynch: “The reason poets aren’t read,” he said, “is that we don’t hang any of them anymore”:

We don’t take them seriously; we don’t think that poetry can move people to do passionate things. But poets did. Poets could change cultures. Before there was so much contest for people’s attention, poets were the ones who literally brought the news from one place to another, walking from town to town, which is how we got everything to be iambic and memorable and rhymed and metered, because the tradition was oral before it was literary.

That was the last best thing I had read about poetry–until I stumbled upon an essay by Karin de Weille in the Writer’s Chronicle. Lynch’s spiel was profound, but it was almost like he was eulogizing poetry. Not so in de Weille’s piece, How We Are Changed by the Rhythms of Poetry. “A poem designed to evoke anger,” she writes, “does much more than give us information about the triggering event; it shapes our energy into the very rhythms of anger. A series of words is chosen because it literally causes us to sputter and spit, stirring up memories and experiences from our personal past, reviving the emotion itself.”

Poetry, de Weille adds, “asks us to pump this life into our throats and out through our mouths. Then it can circulate among us, with total disregard for the distinctions that otherwise rule our lives.”

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Source: Writer’s Chronicle (Article not yet available online)

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