Poetry classes should encourage writing before reading

My freshman year of high school marked my formal introduction to poetry. It wasn’t a great first impression, as one might imagine happens when pushing Shakespeare on a bunch of 14-year-olds. It lulled the majority of my English class to sleep, and consequently, I deemed poetry a “boring art.” It was all cryptic language, cheesy love and flowery sentiment — all things that I wasn’t too fond of at the time. I was an aspiring writer who dreamt of producing award-winning news articles, not lame and pointless stanzas. But as I searched for ways to express my creative energy and teenage problems, I eventually turned to poetry. It provided a channel for my emotions that wasn’t present in news writing. I wrote stilted, overwrought and occasionally angsty free verse. It wasn’t impressive by any means, but it was a start.

Poetry and I formed a casual, amiable relationship for a few years. This continued until my senior year of high school when I had the opportunity to take a poetry class. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first and if it would be another dull poetic experience or something genuinely interesting. It became evident in the first few weeks: it seemed to be leaning toward the latter. My teacher cultivated a warm and nonjudgmental atmosphere for students to study poetry. We learned different movements and individual poets, but the emphasis was writing original poetry based on prompts. This prompt focus was challenging, forcing me to introspect and grow as a writer.

Through this class, I experienced first-hand the bonding power of poetry. The environment encouraged emotional openness and provided a necessary outlet for myself and my classmates.  Over the year together, our class ended up forming a sort of “poetry family.” By sharing our lives through our poetic work, we were able to relate to one another in a way that regular conversation would not allow. There were hugs given, tears shed and a sincere camaraderie shared between us. I felt as if we knew each other deeply even if many of us had just met that year.

This experience exemplifies the importance of poetry. It made me learn that poetry is not just the art of famous dead men, even though so many people view it in that way. Poetry is a way of shedding light on universal feelings and dilemmas. It is a means of connecting humanity.

I wish this notion were more widely recognized and that more schools introduced poetry in a way that stimulates student experience, just as my senior poetry class did. I think that children and teenagers must learn to enjoy writing poetry before they can appreciate the poetic works of others. If done well, the first introduction to poetry can be the catalyst to an aspiring poet. But if done poorly, it can turn a student off to poetry for life. Instead of pushing students to analyze incomprehensible poems, educators should allow students to explore poetry and just write. This is the only way they will get to the heart of what poetry truly is.

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