Sunday, October 17, 2010

Manic Monday--Poetry

Normally I do movie reviews on Mondays, but the hubby and I have been watching season one of Spartacus, so I thought I'd post about something else that I've been want to discuss on my blog, but have been putting off: Poetry (shudder, cringe, starting to feel nauseous).

Okay, so here's the deal with me and poetry.

I don't like it. I HATE it. I despise it. I...fear it.

Gasp. What?? Oh my God! What did she just say?  Gasp. Gasp. Can't. Breathe. WTF? Blasphemy! Blasphemy! Get the noose people! This girl is out of her fucking mind!

Yeah, I thought some of you might react that way. But now ask me why.

Okay. Why Melanie, why on this good God's Earth would you say such a thing?!?

Why? Because of my eleventh grade English Lit teacher.


Yep. Isn't that terribly sad??? I know. Here's what happened--

Many eons ago when I was in the eleventh grade, My English Lit teacher gave us an exam and one of the questions on this exam was a poem we had never seen before (I don't remember the author or the name of the poem, but I remember it had something to do with fish, I think, who friggin' knows. Anyway...). The question on the exam asked us to read a given poem and give our interpretation of the Poet's meaning behind a particular line in the poem. Okay. Easy enough right? Right.

A couple of days later I get my exam back and I have a C on the exam. I'm usually a B student so I didn't love seeing a C on my paper. I look it over to see where I lost so many points and low and behold, I lost a huge chunk of points on that poem question. The difference between a C and a B and that to me was a big deal. But the thing was, there was no explanation about why I lost so many points on that question, so I went to her to ask her about it. (The following is a very rough recollection of that conversation. It was a long time ago)

Me: Why did I lose so many points on this question?
Her: Because you didn't understand what the poem was saying.
Me: ?
Her: ?
Me: But you asked us to give you our interpretation of what that line meant, so how can you say I was wrong?
Her: You didn't understand what the poet was trying to say. That wasn't what the poem was about.
Me: But I gave you MY interpretation of that line. You asked us to give you our individual interpretation based on a poem we've never seen so how can you say I was wrong? That's totally unfair.
Her: I'm sorry, but if you read the poem carefully, you would have understood what the poet was trying to say in that line.  I can't give you any points on it.
Me: ?
Her: ?
Me: But, this was a poem we've never seen or discussed before. My iterpretation therefore is going to be based on my own background knowledge and experiences. How can you say the way I interpreted a poem I've never seen is wrong??? (Why, yes...I did end up majoring in psychology in college. Why do you ask?)
Her: Sorry. I'm not going to give you any points on it. You misinterpreted the poem.
Me: @#^^&*%^&*#% (not to her, in my head). I walk away...pissed and changed.

So, there you have it. Does it make sense that I would suddenly hate poetry? You see, this teacher made me believe that all poems are written with one specific meaning behind it. That there is only one interpretation to what a poem is saying and means. And that I should totally understand every poem and what that particular poet (whom I don't know squat about) is trying to say. After that experience, I thought to myself, Why bother? I don't understand what they're saying anyway. Why should I care. I don't get it and my interpretation will probably always be wrong. There's no room for individual interpretation in poetry, so unless I'm writing my own...who friggin cares.

I believe in my heart that this teacher was wrong, but I can't help but feel permanently tainted when it comes to poetry.

I know this may seems so sad to some of you because it is to me. This one teacher killed my possibility to love poetry. And to be honest, I think she kind of killed my love for reading as I can recall from that moment on, not enjoying reading. Reading to me was about text books for school and work and papers and homework. There was no joy to be had in reading, especially when it was subject to interpretation.

It is only in the last 7 years or so that I have slowly begun to find pleasure in reading, but I will admit, I still hide from poetry like it's the plague. I don't want to feel that way, but I don't know how to get over this feeling that if I read a poem, I won't be able to "get it." And I know I shouldn't have to and it really pisses me off that I think I should. That teacher has NO IDEA what she did to me. How she killed my love for the very subject she was teaching.

I hope one day to find joy in poetry because I know I'm missing so much beautiful literature out there. It's funny because when I see a small poem in the beginning of a novel, I groan and turn the page. I LOVED the book Paper Towns, but hated the parts that referred to the poem that the whole story was based around. I literally cringed and felt my heart race every time the MC started reading that damn poem.


And thanks for letting me vent about this. It's been pent up in me for a VERY LONG TIME.


  1. haha @ having pent up feelings (i mean, i love the way you've just spilled them all out all over this page!). I know what you mean.

    i'm not a huge fan of poetry although i used to write some when i was an angsty teen :)

  2. Ditto on the angsty teen poetry. I am so not an expert on poetry. I could not tell you a good poem from a bad poem, and if I like a poem, I probably couldn't even articulate why.

    My idea of good poetry is Dr. Seuss!

  3. I had a teacher like that, who insisted on the ONE TRUE INTERPRETATION of every poem. I hated it! Of course, some interpretations are more likely than others. But other than that? ARGH. Just saying ;)

    Fortunately I had another teacher who did teach me to love poetry, and I still do :)

    You are not crazy and your 11th grade lit teacher was wrong.

    I hate that you "misunderstood it crap" no one knows what the hell the writer truly meant unless the writer told you his/herself. I love the scene in rodney dangerfields' Back To School where he gets Kurt Vonnegut JR to write his report on his novel - and he still fails! so there you have it You are not crazy.

    I used to be like you, I hated, despised poetry. Forced to write sonnets in HS when I couldn't get the beat of iambic pentameter and told also that I didn't interpret correctly. Well I had a really great HS senior English teacher, Mr Duke, who told us all that 'Poems shouldn't mean, they should just be" and then in college some poets came to read their stuff and man I was hooked. I was like - I write like that! - not a novel no story arc but intense - it was called Narrative Poetry. look into that - maybe go to some readings. I know it's hard the last poetry reading I went to was before I became a teacher - got married and had kid. But learning about narrative poetry was like when I took my ballet-dancer-suite-mate in college to a Techno Club - so freeing and loose!

    a poem is nothing to fear: no rhyme, no reason just words on a page illustrating emotions and feeling and an experience or two. Take from it what you will, leave behind what you won't have. Play with the words like music from an instrument, give voice to a song and let it ring across the page and into the ears, eyes, hearts and minds of a reader.

    ++ sorry for the long comment but may have drunk a little too much wine;)

  5. Thank you all for your comments. I actually had fun writing this post LOL. It may not be a great memory to have, but it felt good to share it. Thank you for your thoughts and thanks Michele, for letting me know I'm not crazy and for sharing your experience with me!

    Thanks Emma for joining my blog! :-) I'm excited to be able to follow the rest of your exciting journey with you and I hope to be writing a post similar to the one you wrote (that I read) in the future!

  6. Y'all come on over to and browse around. English teachers like yours, Melanie,are the reason poetry has its undeserved bad reputation. If you think you hate poetry, you just haven't come across the right poet yet!

  7. thank you Jayne. I will check out that site. there are some poets that i remember really liking (Frost, Poe (sp?) and a few others), but after that experience i felt so ruined, so defeated in that artistic world. i felt like i didn't get poetry and it wasn't for me. i think i will slowly attempt to get myself reading some and see if i can get over my fear of believing there is a right and wrong way to interpret poetry.

    thanks for stopping by and for the link :-)

  8. I used to wonder in English class if some intellectual people got together at some point and decided, "This author meant this in this passage," and that's what they teach us...half the time I wondered if the author or poet really thought that much into it at all. Some did, I'm sure, but sometimes the teacher said something like, "This line is an allusion to BlahBlahBlah because it mentions lilies." And I would think, "What if the author just mentioned lilies because he likes lilies? Or because they work with the visual he's trying to create?"

    So much of literature is THE READER'S EXPERIENCE. Like art...everyone will see something different in a piece of work, and that's the beauty of it.

  9. One name. Maya Angelou. Read some of her stuff and you'll start to love poetry again. :)


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