I’ll admit — I’m not often a big fan of poetry. To me, it’s sort of like reading a bunch of Ziggy comics; finding a good one is so rare as to be almost shocking.
Of course, “good” is subjective. Poetry can be “good” because it is strong in technical elements, or imagery, or wordplay… but ultimately, if a poetry only speaks to my brain and not to my gut, or only to my gut and not to my brain, it usually won’t stick with me.
But poetry, like many other disciplines, is a skill that feeds itself. Those who study and pursue poetry expand their minds to different types of poetry in the same way that the best musicians learn to speak intelligently about multiple types of music. In the same way that Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mombazo learned from each other while putting together the album Graceland (can you believe that album is 26 years old?), poets who study other poets will inevitably take in new ideas, new concepts, new understandings of their own situations and emotions and how to express them.
Because of that, I often find that I am more interested in things poets say when they are not necessarily trying to write a poem.
Today, feeling as if I had failed to do well at anything (I could have worked harder, I could have eaten better, I could have been a better husband, I could have been a better father, I could have been a better friend, I could have I could have I could have), I ran a Google search for “tomorrow I will do better.”
And I found this page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3503.Maya_Angelou
Please, go to that page.
The first page alone hit home for me repeatedly.
There are six pages of that sort of thing.
Not all of it smacked me between the eyes. Much of it missed me altogether. But look at the words of this poet — not just the quoted poetry, although much of that is indeed of the quality you would expect for someone like Maya Angelou (remember: when it comes to enjoying her poetry, like enjoying any poetry, your mileage may vary). Look at her expressions of hope and the fact that it’s not just pure optimism — it’s downright pragmatic. It’s the sort of optimism that pessimists can accept with grim determination. It’s an optimism that doesn’t try to tell you that everything is going to be okay; instead, it tells you that things aren’t going to be okay — but you will be.
Poetry, like other artistic expression, is meant to be shared. I have no doubt that Angelou read plenty of other poetry before figuring out how to express herself, and the time she spent carefully considering her words absolutely would have helped her consider the issues about which she writes from so many angles that it helped lead her to incredible clarity on her viewpoints.
The importance of poetry isn’t artsy-fartsy, no matter what school may have accidentally suggested to you. The introspection in poetry often seems, to non-poets, to be the worst form of navel-gazing possible, and I’m certain some poets are doing too much of that — but so are some musicians, some writers, some painters, and so on. (Note to self: at the rate you used them in that last sentence, you’re going to run out of commas by age 40.) Playing with language and rhythm and tone is wonderful at times, and there is no form of poetry that I haven’t found connection with, so the artsy-fartsy stuff is fine. However, the importance of poetry is that when it comes down to it, all of it is attempting to connect thoughts and feelings to one another, and most importantly to other people.