Why read depressing stuff…?

I’ve told you the success story of the poetry book club I belong to, right? How we grew fond of the more authentic conversations we had, bracketed by poems each of us brought to the monthly meeting. How I ~ a complete newbie in town ~ found a community of like-minded readers & lovers of words.

Much of what we share is hard reading. Not difficult to understand, but sometimes difficult in its content, how it hurts to be brought in to such a tragic situation, landscape, life… This past meeting I brought in poems b;y Jericho Brown, from his first book, Please. They were not easy to live with, dealing as they do with the dark ambivalence Brown felt/feels for his sometimes-violent father, and the mother who stayed with him.

But we read them, and we talked about domestic violence. And about writing what is hard, but true. And the conversation shifted then to another poem, offered by another member — Emily Dickinson’s ‘#314: hope is the thing with feathers…” Talk moved from Dickinson in general (and the movie about her life) to hope, to reading poetry overall.

That’s the beauty of poetry, right there: it starts conversations that matter. Or at least it seems to. I’ve never met anyone — even those who claim to dislike it — who didn’t light up when asked about childhood favourites. Something a grandparent read, or a parent. A nursery rhyme, possibly.

Somewhere along the line, we lose that. More accurately, school often beats it out of us. As a friend of mine (another English teacher!) once said, it takes an English teacher to make you hate poetry. Billy Collins is right: too many people want to “tie the poem to a chair with rope/ and torture a confession out of it.// They begin beating it with a hose/ to find out what it really means.”

We don’t do that at Poetry Book Club. We just share & visit. You don’t always have to “know” what a poem “means” to enjoy it. Just like you don’t have to sugarcoat the ugliness of grief. Which leads to another poetry book review, courtesy of my beloved Nimrod International Journal. It’s a conversation about Colin Pope’s heart-wrenching collection Why I Didn’t Go to Your Funeral. I highly recommend it, even if it’s ‘depressing.’ It’s also gorgeous, beautifully crafted, and just amazing. Enjoy!

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