love of poetry

Poetry can move the soul

I have been a reader, lover and writer of poetry for virtually my entire life. My earliest recollection of reading poetry was when I was in third or fourth grade, when I was a student at a Catholic parochial school while living in Illinois.

Evidently I showed promise for reading; one of my teachers, a nun, placed me in an advanced reading class with a handful of other students who she thought would benefit from this special class.

We read poetry and short stories from famous authors. I remember reading “The Raven” and “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, dark writings that, at such a young age, frightened me. Later, I appreciated their artistry more.

We also read “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,”; I can still quote parts from memory. This exposure to poetry when I was a child made an indelible impression in my mind that I have nurtured and returned to throughout my life.

When I attended the University of AZ, I always gravitated toward the “greeting cards” section in the bookstore housed in the Student Union. Back then, my main interest was for syrupy love poems by modern poets like Susan Polis (now Susan Polis Shutz). She started the famous “Blue Mountain Arts” card company with its distinctive look, fonts, and genre:

A typical style of the cards made by Blue Mountain Arts.

Poetry is a vast ocean of different styles, subjects, artists, tastes, etc. For myself, if I can’t understand the poetry, I won’t read it. And a lot of poetry is difficult to read and understand; I’ve never had much interest in this kind of poetry and rarely have taken the time and energy needed to read some of the author’s who wrote in more difficult styles, like Shakespeare.

One of my favorite poetry books is “One Hundred and One Famous Poems.” Here is a link. I have a paperback copy that is ragged and dog-eared, with missing pages held together by scotch tape. I can’t remember where and how it came into my possession, but I believe I’ve had it close to thirty years—maybe longer— and still read it to this day.

Some of my favorites from this book are “The Eternal Goodness,” “The Barefoot Boy,” “Trees,” “Mercy,” “Mending Wall,” “The Fool’s Prayer,” “I Shall Not Pass This Way Again,” “Maud Miller,” “In Flanders Fields” and many others from this great little book. I especially like the “Prose” section at the end of the book.

My love and interest in poetry is why I particularly like the movie, “The Dead Poets Society” with Robin Williams. He played a memorable role and the movie captured the ability of poetry to move, shape and influence minds.

Another favorite movie of mine is “Interstellar,” by director Christopher Nolan. A poem written by Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” was a cornerstone of this excellent movie, showing the enduring power of poetry to move and influence people even in our modern era.

Poetry for me ebbs and flows; I take in little chunks, reading a poem here and there. Long lengths of time can pass between poetry readings and I’m not constantly reading it. Like everything in life, poetry has its seasons.

My tastes in poetry has changed over the decades; the kind of poetry I liked when I was a young man is not the same kind of poetry I like now. For example, romantic poetry, so important in the early part of my life, is not important and I no longer read hardly any of it. Certainly I no longer actively seek it out like when I was younger and making bee-lines to the greeting cards sections of bookstores and supermarkets. I’ve jaded on love and romance. Again, different seasons…

And not all poetry is created equal. There is some really terrible poetry out there, written by well-meaning individuals who have utterly no talent for the craft. But since modern poetry is usually written without adherence to any sense of rhythm or meter, “poets” are everywhere and anyone is considered an poet who puts words in short lines on paper.

Poetry can nourish the soul and rouse the passions in our lives. When my children were small, we watched the “Anne of Green Gables” series together: good, wholesome movies, especially for little girls. Anne Shirley was enamored with Arthurian poetry and often recited it. In fact, it was Anne’s oft reference to Camelot that prompted my interest in discovering what she was referring to.

Recently, for the first time, I read the poem written by Lord Alfred Tennyson on the death of King Arthur. It is excellent and is an example of what I consider first rate poetry.

Poetry is somewhat like fine art or classical music: the more you study it, the larger your understanding and appreciation grows. After a lifetime of being a casual reader and writer of poetry, I can attest to the truth of this and encourage all to do the same: your soul will be nourished and lifted up to wonderful, new heights of wisdom and beauty.