I wouldn’t have the slightest clue who I am if it weren’t for poetry. I wrote my first poetry in sixth grade, started plagiarizing my sister’s better poetry in seventh grade, and began writing my own poems in earnest in tenth grade. From the ages of 15 to 18, I wrote hundreds of very bad poems, and the experience of writing those very bad poems was one of the most important things that’s ever happened to me.
Most nights in high school would find me in my room, candles burning, classical music playing, and my pencil feverishly flying over a notebook page, scribbling lines that were most likely morbid, tragic, romantic, gothic. Reading them now is comical, but also nostalgic, because I remember how deeply I felt these words, how important they were to me. I didn’t imagine I could go on living if those notebooks were lost or destroyed.
As a young teen, I began buying poetry books at auctions, garage sales, resale shops, used book stores, and antique stores. The venues at which I could find these volumes dictated they were mostly classics: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lord Byron, Sylvia Plath, John Keats, Christina Rossetti, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Ernest Dowson, Edgar Allen Poe, and many others. I assembled quite a library of classic poetry in mostly antique volumes by the time I’d graduated high school, and I read all of it. I didn’t discover my first modern poet–and I’m not even sure who it would have been–until well into adulthood.
Poetry was mine. I claimed it, and I claimed myself as part of its world. I was lonely for so much of my teens, and more emotional than I knew how to deal with, and not very good at making and keeping friends. I had moody music and I had poetry and I had a few good friends who could appreciate those things with me. Without that, I don’t know who I would be right now.
I wrote this on Fourth & Sycamore when PoetryMatters, the monthly poetry reading series I started in 2015, closed up after a year:
Read poetry. Please. Read it, and share it with others. Pass along your favorite poems and poets to your friends. Check out poetry books from your library. Buy poetry books if and when you are able. Attend poetry readings. Stage a poetry reading at a local bar or coffeeshop. Host a reading in your home. Write poetry and, if you want to, send it out to see if it can be published. Share a poem on social media. Read some more poetry.
Poetry still matters. Do you believe that?
I do. It’s National Poetry Month. Do something about it.