A good friend of mine has always claimed that she hated poetry. To me that sounded like an impossible generalisation, but I was pretty sure she wasn’t alone in her inexplicable disgust for the rhythmic composition of words. In fact, I’d assumed that it was an almost universal inclination.
To say that I enjoy writing poetry is not exactly accurate. It’s more like a compulsion which I try to keep under control. In my teens and twenties I was unable to stop myself from composing poems, often several a day. It was therapy rather than literature, and they were mostly awful.
When I decided I wanted to be a proper writer, I knew that I would have to move over into the prose field. Nobody was interested in poetry, and in the unlikely event that there was going to be any money to be earned through words, I was certain it would have to be in novels.
I tried. It was not easy for me because I have the unusual problem of being too concise. I have to force myself to insert extra words around the few which I consider necessary. With some effort, I expanded into short stories, which I suspected were also basically a waste of time. Eventually I managed to write a collection of stories with the bare minimum word count and enough interconnection to try and pass off as a complete book. Years later I finished another one of those, only slightly longer. After that I wrote an actual novel.
Out of all this writing only one short story has been published, and after reaching dead-ends down all the more traditional avenues, I turned to the internet in an attempt to build an audience for one of my collections.
More failure and a general lack of interest followed. I experimented with blogs, also mostly met with indifference, and nothing made much impact until someone asked if I’d ever tried poetry. My secret habit had been suppressed for about a decade and it had never occurred to me that other people would have any interest in reading verse, particularly my verse.
It turned out I was wrong. When I decided I had nothing to lose and posted my first poem, a surprising number of strangers reacted positively. I wrote many more and rehashed some of my old ones and readers actually clapped and highlighted and responded. It’s not as if I became an overnight sensation or anything, but I finally found an engaged, enthusiastic audience for my words. “Who’d have thought?” as my poetry-hating friend remarked.
I would like to think that it is because aesthetically pleasing, structured words are what a growing number of readers need at this point in history. Our current existence is full of mess and ugliness. In the face of this discord, we can try to expose the brutal facts in essays or distract ourselves with fantasy stories, but there are many who find these words difficult to accept.
Sometimes when words are shaped into an elegant spear of truth, it can be enough to pierce a shielded heart. When our hearts are opened, we have no choice but to confront reality as it is and I believe this is what makes poetry important in our lives.