I have heard people say that poetry is too uncertain: it’s difficult to read, it’s too abstract, it’s confusing, it lacks clarity, it is not reasonable. In other words, it’s not worth the effort, it’s a waste of time. Of course poetry is hard! It should be hard! But it’s hard because it is not prose! It needs to be read seriously. It should not be toyed with or merely glanced at. It is not a puzzle to be solved by the intellect. Poetry needs to be pondered. It needs to be let in slowly and deliberately. It needs to take us over.
When we look at a family album we see pictures that evoke mood or feeling — feelings that speak to our imagination and emotion. I mentioned some years ago in another article that our mind records everything that affects us — it is a continuous winding tape in the brain that recalls and stores everything that happens to us: all the images, feelings, emotions, events — in fact all the impressionable happenings — that occur in a human lifetime.
Now think of poetry this way. Think of poetry as a series of images that bring emotion and excitement to our common experience. Look out the window and watch what happens when imagination takes over. The smallest detail of what was once ordinary and commonplace - now comes alive in your sight. And this is what makes poetry so important. It is possible for poetry to shape the way we view everything. And it helps when we read it again and again and again — and not just once. And read it out loud!
There is that wonderful passage from Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. Mr. O’Halleran, the headmaster at the Catholic school in Limerick, Ireland said to the class of boys he was teaching, “Stock your mind, stock your mind, it is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it. If you won the Irish Sweepstakes and bought a house that needed furniture, would you fill it with bits and pieces of rubbish. It will rot your head. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.”