When was the last time you sat and read a poem? For many, the answer is most likely at school, and accompanied by a sense of dread or trauma at the thought of the enforced mechanical over-analysis of how red connoted anger or the sky was a metaphor for freedom. Poetry has lost its place in our society, representing a burden rather than an art. Even for me, the poetry section of my English Literature GCSE induced more pain and terror than a 9-to-5 on a Monday. These lessons were important in that they exposed us to this form of art and it’s main literary mechanisms, but in doing so stripped away the fundamental aspect of the beauty of poetry. Our brains were forced to extract the most obscure analyses in an effort to write a passable essay in less than an hour for a certificate. This is not the purpose of poetry. Poetry is not about understanding, but simply about the way that it can make you feel and how it can resonate within your own experiences.
Our world has become so technological, disconnected and dehumanised that we have lost our sense of community. We constantly ask so much from ourselves, we push to breaking point, suffer under impossible stresses and rush through life on the basis of survival. There is no wonder, no pleasure or beauty in a life so silenced in emotion and lacking in expression. It becomes empty, mundane and lonely. John Muir once said, ‘the gross heathenism of civilisation has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual’. Poetic neglect and under-appreciation is a symptom of a much larger cause, but could also form part of the cure. It is, ironically, a means to communicate through something much more profound, more powerful and more human than simple words. It is, at its most basic, the ability to turn even the most sinister and tragic of events into beauty, and the most beautiful into euphoria. It gives purpose, community and passion to life.
I started reading and writing poetry a few years ago, now keeping a small journal containing over two hundred musings. After failing to keep a diary for more than two days, slipping into a broken cycle which cost me far too much money in notebooks, I thought that writing poems may provide a more manageable alternative. I write my poems on my phone whenever I feel inspired, and subsequently jot them down in my book. I am certainly no Keats or Shelley, and my poems are by no means born from literary genius, but in their own way they are art. They are a heightened, often exaggerated, version of my emotions, experiences or insights. They connect me with myself, allowing me to explore the way I feel and often teaching me things about myself I hadn’t realised. They sometimes take on new forms midway, leaving me surprised at my own self expression and asking ‘why?’.
Poetry enables a form of documenting the past in a way that history books cannot, through the individual’s perspective and manipulations of words that can not only create beauty but can also conjure a sense of unity between generations through shared emotion. Poetry is not factual, but describes the humanity of historical events, life experiences and tragedy. Through reading poems I have gained insight into human nature, been exposed to emotions I have yet to experience and learned to draw parallels with people so distant from myself. Poetry extends far beyond art, is much more important than beauty, for it is a symbol of harmony in a society that has become so insular and disconnected. It allows you to gain a sense of mutuality in a world which has become so silenced is it easy to feel isolated. It is a reminder of the ubiquitous nature of human emotion, allowing you not only to understand your own experiences at a deeper and more profound level, but also to take comfort in its companionship. As always, my point can be more successfully explained by another, so I leave you with George Sand’s words: ‘he who draws noble delights from sentiments of poetry is a true poet, though he has never written a line in all his life’.