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Why Poetry is Way More Punk Than You Thought

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  • "Poetry" in metal type

Karissa, Clemens Mill & Hespeler | May 7, 2015

You know it, I know it: poetry doesn’t have the best reputation these days. Very few people think “poetry” and “cool” are correlating concepts. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to prose fiction, maybe it seems too intimidating at first glance, or maybe it’s because in school we’re always studying the complicated likes of good old Shakespeare.

But poetry is cool (and so is Shakespeare, by the way. I mean he invented the word “bedazzled.” That’s pretty badass). Poetry written by classics like Shakespeare, Keats, and Browning is cool because it’s beautiful and strangely relevant, even decades later. The contemporary poetry written by Billy Collins, Allen Ginsberg, and Heather Christle, however, is cool because it’s making a difference now. It is condensed, powerful, and it makes us feel in a way prose never could. Poetry shows us a raw glimpse inside the mind of the writer. It challenges the norm, and it gets people angry and surprised. Poetry is kind of punk, if you ask me.

But how does one start reading poetry? Reading poetry is definitely a skill that needs to be developed. There are conventions to learn and patterns to notice; you need imagination and patience and insight and guts. But boy is it worth it.

Here are some fun and unexpected ways to start reading (and loving) poetry:

Grab a novel in verse. These books have been popping up all over the place lately, but especially in the YA section. And they’re good. Typically 150-300 pages long, these novels tell a story entirely in free verse. They’re packed with powerful emotions, strong metaphors, and vivid imagery. Try Audacious (a paranormal twist on high school drama), Rumble (about the aftermath of a suicide), or Three Rivers Rising (a historical romance).

Watch slam poetry. Spoken word is an amazing social movement that allows people to share important stories in bold, creative ways. Attending live performances is always a worthwhile experience, but there are thousands of amazing Slam Poetry performances to watch on YouTube. Some of the most popular are Shane Koyzcan, Sarah Kay, and Catalina Ferraro.

Subscribe to online literary arts journals. This is a great way to discover up-and-coming poets. If you’re a poet yourself, you could even try submitting to one. Check out Gigantic Sequins, The AWL (which is free!), or The Rumpus.

Read contemporary poetry on a topic you care about.

Trust me, there is a poem about anything you could ever want to read. Browse the themes section of poets.org for more ideas, or ask a librarian to help you find some.

But beware. Reading poetry might make you think about things you’ve never considered, learn about things you never imagined, and view the world in a whole new light. And you might even enjoy it.

Sarah Kay, "If I should have a daughter"