By Mary Lou Raposa (@themlfox)
I tried writing poetry at 16.
At the time, I’ve had it up to my ears with poems to analyse and study for in English class. What interaction I had with poetry outside of academia only involved looking up meaningful lines… to post on my Facebook to passive-aggressively call out the people who hurt me.
No matter where I turned, poetry surrounded me—as matter-of-fact as life itself. Was it because I was a writer and hence attracted these sorts of art forms constantly? Or was it because of all the English classes I took?
I’ll never know.
Writing poetry for me was not a question of if but when.
And when was at 16 years old.
My emotions at the time were at their peak, banging at my chest, suffocating me, and roaring to escape before it fell apart. I needed more than an outlet—I needed salvation.
By then, Microsoft Word was already a thing, so I didn’t have to go to any coffee shop with a notebook and a pen to compose my verses. I simply plopped at my dad’s computer table, booted up his ThinkPad laptop, and typed away.
I revisited those poems recently.
There were so many things wrong with them, but the most egregious error was the lack of structure. I’m sure I wrote it with this ill-gotten assumption that all poems had to rhyme and that a stanza had four lines. They scream amateur to anyone who reads it—even to those not inclined to read poetry. To be fair… they were written by an amateur.
But those pieces contained my heart and soul. It contained things I held on to that I couldn’t explain to anyone. Despite the rules, the restrictions—despite the challenge in conveying what I felt, writing those poems were refreshing.
One of those poems ended up being shown to someone who wrote poetry. I’ll never forget the face she made. It was an expression that succinctly told me that whatever poetry was, my attempt was not it. That was the only time I ever wrote poetry. Since then, no other attempts have been made.
Because I’m not a poetry writer.
What writing skills I do have fit perfectly and exclusively for prose—straightforward and detailed. Poetry is something I don’t understand. The rules put me in a whirl and leave me feeling lost. With prose, words just flow out.
Even reading it is a challenge sometimes. It feels like there’s a wall blocking me from fully understanding the meaning of any piece. I have to sift through words, lines, and composition to understand what it’s trying to say. But all that does not negate this face: poetry is important.
It seems lame—maybe even laughable. We’ve seen the stereotypes—the coffeeshop poet. There are so many scenes of beret-wearing poets clicking their fingers in underground clubs. Some, I’ve observed, believe poetry to be this piece of literature reserved for wealthier individuals. Because rich people are the only ones who have time to write and read something so flowery and elusive.
From someone who doesn’t understand, I see poetry as rich. I see it as titillating to the senses. They are the packages that keep giving. You read it once and you think you understand but you read it again and you discover even more things. They’re the babushka dolls of the literary world.
But it is intimidating. I understand that. To the uninitiated, poetry is complicated. It’s hard to relate to. A three-line stanza is poetry. A non-rhyming verse of twenty lines is also poetry. It seems the sky’s the limit but there are so many rules and restrictions. What can you even say with a few lines of words? But they’re in the lyrics of songs. They are in the notes passed between lovers. They are everywhere.
What makes poetry compelling are the rules. They say what they mean and more. There is no hiding, no meandering—there’s no time to waste. Writers have these stories inside them and through poetry, they say it unapologetically. It’s up to us, the readers and spectators, to pay attention and listen.
Today is World Poetry Day set by UNESCO. The purpose of this day is to “support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increase the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard. Its purpose is to promote reading, writing, publishing, and teaching poetry throughout the world and to give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional, and international poetry movements”.
Books, movies, news, radio, podcasts, art, music—many forms of media and art contain history, voices, and the human experience. But they don’t contain all. Other forms out there have more. Poetry is one of them. These verses are written by the pioneers, the sufferers, the workers, the children, the marginalised, and the happy.
My contribution to this day is to encourage the reading of poetry, to see another side to the human experience. To set aside the stereotypes and intimidation and give it a go.
Below is a podcast of me celebrating World Poetry Day. Have a listen and nerd out with me.