Why Poetry, in a Simpson’s World?


One piece of advice I frequently share with my students is to be a nerd about your passions. Find what you love and geek out about it. The alternative is a bland, uninteresting life. My students know that I’m a poetry geek and often wonder how it’s possible to be any nerdier than a poet. I tell them I want to earn an MFA or a PhD. “In what?” they ask. Poetry of course. The immediate smirks are widespread. The brave ones even laugh out loud. Hysterically.

Why is it so laughable to study poetry? Maybe because Hallmark has turned poetry into trite sentimentalism. Maybe because people see poetry merely as an outlet for teen angst. Maybe because there is pressure to only embark on those journeys our parents and grandparents traveled (somewhat miserably I might add) to put bread on the table, to redo the kitchen or finish the basement, to live a nice comfortable life that hard working men and women are supposed to live. Perhaps because education pundits are calling for thousands of new math and science teachers while eliminating fiction and poetry from language arts curriculum. Or because the only revered Homer is a Simpson and the Odyssey is simply a great minivan.

It’s good to know the cultural status that poetry has (or doesn’t have), and it’s nice to rant about the world needing more poetry readers. But ranting like this fails to recognize the individual. You. Me. I know that it’s in my nature to respond to life, to work through my faith and my doubt, to grieve, to worship, to celebrate through poetry.

Regardless, I often wonder why I bother writing such an “unpopular” genre. And then I get a card in the mail from a family that was encouraged by a poem I wrote for them in a time of severe grief and loss. I get a Facebook message from a friend who relies on the truth found in poetry to keep his head about him. A former professor, who holds a very different world view than me, tells me he’s moved by something in one of my poems. Cultural popularity, laughing students, and a lack of income aren’t enough to dissuade me from being a poet, because the human heart is too valuable to walk away from.

Post by Joel Jacobson, of A Poetic Matter.


  1. L. L. Barkat says

    I think Joel must be a good teacher, and I think his approach of loving poetry first is the best way to begin cultivating the love-of-it in others.

    Now, as for you, my sweet friend (Cheryl), I want to see that poem-ish thing sometime soon. Even if it’s quietly in my inbox. :)

  2. says

    I once jokingly said on Twitter that there should be a TEDPoets group (there’s a TED-something for just about everything else, so why not?). Interestingly, a lot of people responded positively to the idea, and the tweet was RT’d quite a bit. Maybe Homer Simpson could be its first poetry-exclaiming member and an Odyssey its official car!

    I can think of some many wonderful writers – Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Dr. Seuss are just three examples – through whom children are first exposed to verse, and those children delight in it. Schools need to find a way to build on that, so that students want to mine poetry the way they explore graphic novels or whatever other genre of literature is their current favorite.

    There’s so much exciting happening in poetry, too; just look at some of the marvelous videopoems that are being created. The words don’t have to be limited to the page and they can be made interactive.

    It might take finding a first poem to love to then begin to love poetry. There are so many wonderful poems available. We just have to look, and be open to letting poetry open to us.

  3. says

    Oh – beautifully said dear poetry geek. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of poetry during our time at the Lodge. I can still hear Julia’s gentle voice reading those powerful, perfectly chosen words. It is a gift. You have a gift.

  4. L. L. Barkat says

    Oh dear, I *am* a poetry geek, but the poetry geek who wrote this is Joel Jacobson. I must say that I’m happy to have to girls who are poetry-geeky with me and would only laugh to think that others *don’t get* poetry! :)

    Wasn’t Julia amazing? One of our members said she would like to exercise while listening to recordings of Julia reading poetry. That made me smile :)

  5. says

    There is a book you need to read one day called “The Poet and the Peasant” by Kenneth Bailey. Bailey is a New Testament scholar who is also an expert in middle eastern cultures. In the book Bailey points out that the parables weren’t just stories; they were also poems. He gives a very complicated breakdown of the structure of Hebrew poetry – which was a bit too scholarly for me. And he then examines each parable as a poem. He shows the interplay between the structure of the poem and the meaning of the parable. It’s hard to fully understand the rules and standards of another culture’s poetry from just a portion of a book, but what was clear was that these were remarkably sophisticated poems. Jesus was a poet – and a darn good one at that!

  6. says

    Thanks for reading, everybody! I’m finding great comfort that I’m not the only poetry geek out there. My students would be appalled that there are others out there like me. Poetreeks unite!

    I love the idea of a TED poetry group. Wouldn’t it be cool if a bunch of us did a Google+ hang out (or some sort of mass video chat), talk about poems/poetry and record it, then post it to TED or youtube or even here at TSP.

    One of the great side effects of being so excited about poetry is that many students end up having less of a problem with it. Baby steps, I know, but I’ll take it!

  7. says

    Hi, Joel. I understand the feeling. I sing classical music in a Lady-GaGa world. I also write whatever comes into my head and have been writing such things for more than forty years. Most of the time I might as well be singing in the shower, but I have found that technical writing pays the bills. I continue to dabble in the literary arts including poetry.
    Strangely enough my poetry gets read, and even more strangely, it gets read in Russia. The stats on my blog often show thirty hits per day in Russia. If anybody has an explanation for that, I’d really like to know why.


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