Poetry is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and effective literary mediums that exist. In comparison to prose, the boundaries of poetry are very much expanded. However, that’s the kicker; there are still boundaries. Unfortunately, many people today (especially teenagers) have the wrong idea about poetry. Many public schools fail to expose their students to poetry in the correct way, partly by allowing them to write weak poetry.
Growing up, I was primarily exposed to Haikus, simple rhymes, and an occasional sonnet here and there. Needless to say, I never want to see another Haiku again. Unfortunately, I developed an aversion to poetry because I felt it was boring and unimpressive. Honestly, I still feel that way about certain forms of poetry. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I really came to know and enjoy good poetry. I was lucky to have Tasha Seegmiller as my teacher, who taught many forms and elements of poetry that I never would have experienced had I not taken the class.
I feel that this is the case of many young people today, who tend to make two very distinct mistakes when approaching poetry.
The first mistake concerns “free verse” poetry. Traditional poetry forms are taught in less depth than they were a hundred years ago, which has triggered a flood of creative writers who don’t quite know what to do. This tends to result in what I like to call “Paragraph Poetry.” This kind of poetry often lacks depth, meaning, and literary value. The term “Paragraph Poetry” comes form the distinct structure of the poem, which seems as if the author wrote a paragraph about how they feel about a certain subject, and then just varied the line length enough to make it classifiable as a poem.
There are those that say “I can write it however I want, that’s what poetry is all about!” Or is it? If one who knows nothing about music bangs on random piano keys, does that make he or she a musician? Does throwing canned soup into a pot make one a chef? Icarus made himself wings; therefore, is he a bird? Certainly not. Slapping words onto a page without rhyme or reason (see what I did there?) does not make one a poet.
Even in “free verse” poetry, there is structure. Free verse simply indicates that a poet had strayed from conventional poetry styles, not that the poet is about to spew a mountain of unorganized word mush at the reader. University professors rarely delight in poetry that follows the “paragraph” format. “Good” poetry usually follows a specific form, evokes feelings and thoughts not expressly written in the poem, and includes literary genius. It is questionable whether what most teenagers write and consider to be poetry is even poetry at all.
This leads us to the second mistake, which involves content. Dr. Todd Petersen once said “Edward Cullen hates your emo poetry.” Although this statement induced many giggles from the class, everyone understood the importance of what it meant. Too often, young people write angsty poetry that is of little value to anyone but themselves. Writing about feelings is wonderful; many of the greatest poems ever written are about sadness, etc. However, there is a fine line between poetry that only communicates “I’m sad and misunderstood” and poetry that does good to the world. There are so many things in the world that are more worthy to write about. It’s important to consider what poetry is all about before flinging unchecked thoughts and feelings onto a page.
This isn’t to say that one cannot write simply for one’s self. It is often very healing to express thoughts and emotions through writing. However, not everything one writes must be shared with an audience; you are what you give to the world.