Poetry Unpacked

Poetry. I love asking people what they think of when they hear the word. For many it brings back memories of high school English class where we were force fed the “author’s meaning” of any piece of literature that crossed our desk. Your interpretation was often shut down and irrelevant, and while I’m an avid fan of many of the classics, there are many of them that would turn the average reader off as the language is often very different from how we speak in 2018. Poetry often conjures a plethora of pretty words that don’t make sense until you spend some time with it. It’s got a pretty bad rap.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I read a lot of poetry. I have countless poetry books and I dedicate time to reading the work of fellow poets on Instagram each day. I’ve developed my own eclectic collection of poetry from these works and it’s helped me garner a better understanding of what makes a great poem – or at least a great poem to me.

Here is my list of 5 things that make a good poem.

  1. You need to understand it the first time you read it.
    Don’t get me wrong, the poem needs to make you think about the words mean; but, you shouldn’t be spending more than a few seconds (or even minutes) decoding metaphors, idioms and similes. If you’re sitting there after reading the poem five times and you still can’t understand what it’s about, never mind the detail, it gets really frustrating and a becomes bit of a turn off.  It’s not that this type of poetry doesn’t have it’s merit, but poetry has such a bad reputation for being exactly this that the Average Joe (or Jess… see what I did there?) is likely to walk away. Poetry is a part of everyday life. Those famous quotes you see shared all the time, the way we describe things like dusk as “cotton candy skies”, commercials and slogans, greeting cards, even the way we talk sometimes. There is so much poetry in every day life already, that the more complicated it becomes the less accessible it is to people that are already secretly and unwittingly in love with poetry.
  2. You’re left without words of your own.
    They will come back, I promise. There is something about a really good poem that first leaves you with no words and a “whoa” kind of feeling. That’s the best way that I can describe it. It’s the same feeling that I get when someone surprises me with something. It’s almost a moment of shock. In a way, I suppose that’s the job of a poet. They give you their words so that you don’t need to find a way to convey those thoughts and feelings on your own. It’s a weird and amazing feeling when words knock you on your butt. I love it.
  3. It resonates with your own experiences.
    When it comes to most, if not all of my favourite poems, I connect with them on a personal level. There is something about the words that brings out the human experience, making you feel like you’re not alone in the things you go through. There is a certain degree of comfort that you get from reading words you feel that you know belong to another human being. You finish the lines with a  feeling of “yeah, me too” and that is one of the most powerful things. As a poet, I love it when people tell me that my words spoke to something they were going through. There is an almost uncanny feeling, knowing that your thoughts are in some way helping someone else in their own journey. For me, aside from getting my own feelings on to paper, is one of the best things about doing what I do.
  4. The words make you feel.
    I know this an obvious one, but some poems, as well written as they are, can still leave you with nothing more than the feeling of having read some pretty words. This is the beauty of poetry. Not everything out there is going to make you feel something, and the ones that do come in varying degrees of emotion. I’ve read poems that left me taking a sharp breath in leaving me with a flurry of feelings and ones that left me with a smirk. Sometimes the words have a way of uncovering emotion in you that you weren’t even fully aware of – whether it be the presence of those feeling or the degree to which you originally thought you felt about something. Words are arguably one of the most powerful thing that exists. If those black squiggly lines we call letters are leaving you with “all the feels”, you know that you’ve got yourself a good poem.
  5. The words make you think.
    I know we talked about this a little bit earlier. The words should make you think, but for this one I’m talking more about your own thoughts rather than deciphering coded words. I find a lot of my favourite poems leave me sitting there lost in thought for a little while after. Getting lost in certain parts take me to a thought train that leads to me all sorts of places in my mind. I think this is one of the best parts of poetry, it has the power to pull a lot from you without saying very much at all. I spend a lot of time on Instgram where mircopoetry reigns supreme. It regularly blows my mind that a few well crafted lines leave with so many more syllables that what was on the page.

What are your favourite poems, and why?
I’ll leave you with that. Happy Tuesday!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I appreciate your perspective as a younger reader of poetry, a demographic I thought was becoming an endangered species! I wish more academic instructors of poetry would pay attention to your five points. Too often these days we see a lot of well crafted but impenetrable verse that, as you say, leaves you scratching your head, and with no emotional impression whatsoever. “A poem should arise to ecstasy somewhere between speech and song,” said the great American Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. While craft is essential to a well-written poem, too much emphasis on wordplay for its own sake directs the reader to the poet’s cleverness rather than the experience of the poem itself.


    1. J.L. Fizzell says:

      Thank you, Sean! I’m actually pleasantly surprised with the amount of younger people who read poetry. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but I always thought I was one in a million too. It’s been a nice surprise to see just how many young people there are who are writing and reading poetry. There’s a huge movement to give it the credit the art form deserves, and I think the quote you shared does it so much justice.


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