Some of my friends don’t like poetry. These guys are neither dull nor unsophisticated. They read widely, some of them, and I find their tastes in prose pretty comparable to my own. More than once I have tried a book on one of their recommendations and found my own horizons happily widened. I trust their tastes, generally.
Their complaints about poetry are consistent: writing that has been put into meter looks labored; more clarity and meaning is lost than gained in the effort to make things fit rather than just trying to say something as clearly as possible; poetry, particularly modern poetry, is deliberately obscure and written for, you know, those people who like poetry, the ones who hang out in coffee houses; nobody really gets it, it’s just a bunch of people who can’t do anything else attempting to impress each other in ways that can’t really be measured or evaluated – the Emperor is wearing no clothes.
These arguments are not lost on me. In fact, I feel just the same way about a lot of the poetry I see. A lot of it looks precious and like it has just been popped off without much thought and without much in the way of depth or precision. It can mean whatever you want it to mean.
And I know, I know, that the same criticism can be leveled against much of the stuff I put up on this blog myself.
But I do keep writing it for some reason. The quality of my own work certainly varies and I guess this world would be no worse off and no different, really, than if not one syllable of it had ever been uttered or keyed.
And I keep reading poetry. Not every day; but now and then and sometimes long and deep. Sometimes I let myself believe that I actually hear the rush of the wind through the verses. And the poetry I read – that stuff that is deliberately obscure and that I don’t get the first time – or first ten times – through, sometimes comes back to me in shards of memory. So much that I go back to those pages – maybe years after the first go-around – and read them again and take in every bit of it and find myself enraptured and nourished.
Those of us who are students of the Christian Scriptures cannot be shy or tentative about poetry. So much of the Bible is poetry. Not just the Psalms, either. The book of Job is a poem, and there are passages – some of the most memorable passages – in the Prophets that are poetry in every sense. In the New Testament, at least the first passage in John’s gospel is poetry. We miss the meaning of much of the Bible if we do not have an ear for the poetic.
More later . . .