A pattern has developed in my life where people I know very well or know only slightly request, sometimes even demand, that I recommend poetry to them. Poets, books, poems–I am milked for my knowledge of this nearly-obscure art form. I do love to respond–to introduce someone to a literary world that not enough people think they can enjoy–and one that I spend an enormous amount of time in. I hope that everyone, at some point, believes it is their time to begin reading poems. But at the same time, this is an impossible request. It’s like someone saying, “So I’ve never listened to music before–who’s good?” Recommending poems or poets is so difficult because basically I’m just handing out what I like and hoping others will like it, too. I don’t really tailor it to each person–I couldn’t. Most people have no sense what type of poems they like, so I have nothing to go off of besides for my own inclinations and a little bit of trying to match someone’s personality or current situation up with a poet (and that’s f’ing hard!).
The advice I would like to give in each person in these instances goes something like this: Go into a bookstore. Grab a book of poetry that looks enticing off the shelf. Read a poem. Do you like it? Read another from that book. Continue. If you like the first five or so that you read, buy it; you’ll likley enjoy the rest. If you don’t like any of the first couple of poems you read, reshelf that book, grab another, and repeat.
I have no idea what poems were meant for people. Since poetry is so sidelined and so few people read it, it’s treated like a genre that has more distinguishable “bests” than other genres. But poetry is just as much about personal taste as any art. In addition, certain poems or poets can be especially meaningful/helpful/interesting based on what mindset someone is in at that moment. Certain poets I’ve been enamored of don’t impress me when I look back on them–probably because at that point in time, they were providing necessary nourishment for something I’m not lacking in anymore. Or something.
The point is: poetry is not as menacing as everyone treats it. As my friend Lilah would say, Poetry has a frush on you (friend-crush). I’m happy to continue recommending poetry entranceways to people, but I just want to put it out there that although I’m always willing to help, I’m really not necessary–who knows, I might even ruin some people who could have been great poetry lovers with my recommendations. So go out there and tackle those p-words yourself. And then we can talk about it. And I’ll be thrilled.
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