Don’t panic, I’m not going to present you with a poem written 200 hundred years ago then say, “Now what do you think the poet meant to convey?” I’m almost willing to bet even the poet had no idea what they truly meant to convey. I also won’t ask you how a poem made you feel. Instead, I will begin with my own embarrassing poetic past.
The first writing I ever did was in junior high. I would have been 11 or 12 and I wrote poetry. Really bad poetry. I don’t have any of it because I rightly threw it away almost as soon as I wrote it. Then I wrote more and threw that away. This went on for about a year until I turned to writing literally hundreds of pages of dialogue with no story surrounding it. I threw all that away as well.
But the poetry writing stayed with me. It shows up every now and again, I even wrote an Ode to Waze. I usually type my poems into the notes app on my phone and leave them there. Sometimes I write them on my to do lists or grocery lists and those get thrown away.
The poems I write aren’t meant to be saved or even savored. I write them because the words sort of pop into my head in a shorthand form that I think of as poetry and so I write them down that way.
Poetry goes back thousands of years and takes hundreds of forms. It is as malleable a form of art as there is. The Homer’s Odyssey is poetry. So is haiku. I remember the first poem I ever read. I read it again and again, trying to figure out why it sang from off the page. It was from an old book my mom had of English poets and the poem was Byron’s She Walks in Beauty Like the Night. Oh my God, I still have the book! I get rid of everything. I threw away my high school yearbooks and a good number of my wedding pictures but I still have this book. Hahahahaha! It’s literally the first poem in the book. Some poems of Shelley (husband to Mary Shelley) and Keats are also in the book. I like Shelley okay but I have to admit I still have trouble with Keats. He sails right over my head most of the time.
If you want to begin writing poetry in English, good news! You are already halfway there. As Stephen Fry said in his excellent book The Ode Less Travelled, “You have already achieved the English-language poet’s most important goal: you can read, write and speak English well enough to understand this sentence.” There is no initial heavy lifting as there would be if you wanted to learn to draw or dance or build a table.
So if you have a bit of interest in learning poetry or reacquainting yourself with it, I humbly recommend a couple books I have on my shelf, a few websites and one really great app.