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.