Billy Collins, fine witted and keen hearted godfather of slam poetry, says in his piece “Introduction to Poetry” that even while urging his students to be gentle and inquisitive
“all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.”
I understand why we have, for so long, blamed teachers and schools for making poetry inaccessible, but this is often a two way street; that is, students are equally at fault. Resistance to poetry, in my experience, is the same as that towards trigonometry in that kids just hear the word and throw in the towel — ugh, poetry! It’s over! Numbers, numbers, numbers! What does it all mean? When will I ever use this?
The easy solution is just to talk about music — how it is just poetry with instrumentation. Dare them to prove you wrong. Ask them to bring in their favourite song, hand out the lyrics, and show us all why K-Pop rules like Shakespeare, got the moves of Jagger, better than watermelon sugar.
But it always feels like a cop out. Like I’m just showing them that a hammer can bash things apart instead of tapping in tiny nails to a finished piece of wooden art. That I’m the one throwing in the towel before they can, when what I really, REALLY believe is when we talk poetry anywhere, and not just in the classroom, folks should just be yelling to “put me in coach!” We all have hearts, and brains, and experiences and have been dashed and have exulted — so, poetry is for that. Right?
This morning on CBC I listened to a program discussing a project called the “Global Vaccine Poem”. Now swelling to some 1400+ entries from around the world, this database of submissions from poets and “non-poets”, encourages people to put their pens and words where their mouth is and versify their experiences of vaccination. Utilizing four simple prompts — “Dear vaccine”, “We liked/ being able”, “It’s the…” and “Vaccine, please” — they are opening the world to hear each other. The site is interactive and strongly encourages writers of all levels to participate.
The word “poetry” comes from the Greek “poesis” which means “to make, create”. To what end? To make what? To create, how? That is largely up to us. “The artist”, says German philosopher and defender of the human spirit Frierich Nietzsche, “dances in chains” which is nothing more than knowing, full well, that we work best when not being told to ‘just write whatever comes into your mind!’ but when pointed towards an achievable, conceivable end. And art is always public…