You Can't Be Mad Reading Poetry Posted on 13 Apr 15:46


“You can’t be mad listening to ‘Sweet Caroline,’ you just can’t.” That’s what my twenty-something, old-sorta-soul officemate just said in between quietly singing pitchy Neil Diamond refrains. She may have a point. Some verses captivate us. They make us feel alive, awake even. They make us happy.

For this reason alone, we should read poetry often.

Some suggest poetry is dead. Others read poetry religiously. Either way, National Poetry Month happens each April. Are you prepared to celebrate? Maybe some incentives are in order? Here are some ideas about why poetry should matter to us:
(Thanks to Windhover House and other internet contributors who articulated some of these reasons.)

(1.) We need beauty in our lives
Truth and beauty have been out of fashion for quite some time now. Does that make anyone else feel melancholy? Beauty enlivens the soul; it makes life vibrant. Without beauty, it’s hard to rise above the mundane. Our spirits need beauty like our bodies need sustenance. A measure of beauty can be found in good poetry.

(2.) It’s good for your brain
We all know that reading is good for the brain. Poetry is a great reading option because it requires less time for those that rarely slow down, but it’s still brainwork. Unlike tweeting and social media-ing, poetry does promote slowing down. It requires reading carefully and analytic thought. It’ll get you thinking, which is always a good thing.

(3.) It revives your imagination
Imagination needs stimulation. Because poetry requires imagination, the more we read, the more we reintegrate this vital human ability. In an uber-scientific age, our imaginations could likely be dying a slow, unimaginative death. Poetry will awaken our senses and enable us to create and to think new thoughts!

(4.) We need to see the world in 3D
Poetry will help us step outside of our own small world. It will help us expand our worldview. Mary Oliver, “far and away America’s best-selling poet,” penned this sentiment about poetry:

Poems speak of the mortal condition; in poems we muse (as we say) about the tragic and glorious issues of our fragile and brief lives: our passions, our dreams, our failures. Our wonderings about heaven and hell–these too are in poems. Life, death; mystery, and meaning. Five hundred years and more of such labor, such choice thought within choice expression, lies within the realm of metrical poetry. Without it, one is uneducated, and one is mentally poor.

(5.) It reminds us that we are not alone
Poetry is largely resonant. We can relate to poems oftentimes because they revolve around human experience. Thoughtful verse can personify feelings that ensure we won’t feel alone in our problems or struggles. Isn’t that a lovely scenario? Poems can offer us the security of un-aloneness. (We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but we should—then I’d wrap myself up in it.)


Maybe the best way to end this post is with a poem? That way you can revive beauty, expand your worldview, find comfort, and stimulate both your brain and your imagination. You can thank me later.

“Crossing the Bar” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home!

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourn of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Here’s another poem from Billy Collins for all you mothers out there.

“The Lanyard”

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.