The Perks of Reading Poetry by Shannon Austin

posted Apr 30, 2017, 5:29 PM by Writing Center
Now, I know what you’re thinking. (Well, actually I don’t. I’m not a mind reader.)

However, I can make a guess that when most students see the word “poetry,” their first instinct is to groan. “Why do we have to read poetry?” “What use is it?” “No one talks like that!” Even some English majors may find poetry difficult to get into or understand. What most students don’t recognize, though, are all of the benefits to reading poetry, even if the prospect seems challenging.

While most students associate poetry with Shakespeare, Whitman, Donne, or other earlier writers, the structure of poetry is constantly shifting and moving away from the traditional forms and rhyme schemes typically associated with it. Contemporary poetry, especially, explores different ways of using language and questions the very nature of what poetry can or should be. For example, I have read poems formatted as letters, lists, instruction manuals, and even emails. To some, these might not sound like poems at all, but the difference lies in the way each author manipulated the text and made his or her language choices.

Because many students are used to writing essays and research papers, which are often more formally structured, they may not even realize what they are capable of creating with words. Reading any type of poetry can offer a glimpse into the kinds of freedoms one can take with writing…once one has learned the basics, of course. Poetry strips a reader of preconceived notions about syntax, word order, and the functions of certain words.  

Aside from academic benefits, poetry also offers something on the most basic, human level. It deals with thoughts and emotions common to all of us, and it can be particularly useful in those moments when we ourselves cannot voice what we want to say. Many modern poets infuse topical elements into their work, whether it be current events or pop culture references, which can make it easier to understand what the poet is trying to convey.

Regardless, the challenge of reading certain poetry shouldn’t deter students from approaching it. As one of my professors noted, it’s difficult because the subject matter is difficult. Life is hard, and writing about it (and certainly understanding it) is going to be hard as well. That means when one can grasp even a little bit of it, say a line or two of poetry, the reward is more than worth it.

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