Here’s What I Know About Poetry

Hey, it’s National Poetry Month! Well, actually, today is the last day. Sorry for the delayed announcement, this isn’t something I keep track of. I am not a spokesperson for poetry. I am just a run-of-the-mill Brooklyn lady who loves to read and write but has never much thought about poetry or whether or not she likes it.

For you, reader, I will now share what I know about poetry.

I don’t know a thing about poetry. Not true, I know things. Like, iambic pentameter, odes, stanzas, haiku. Is haiku poetry? Don’t laugh at me, I am 51, I forget things. I know a few poets. I know their names. The obvious ones. Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Edna St Vincent Millay. These are basic people. Adrienne Rich comes to mind. Jill Scott, the singer, also writes poetry. Major Jackson is a poet who is a friend of mine. I’ve never read his poetry.

Ok, wait. I should Google a few things to jog my memory about poetry . I should be telling you what I know without the assistance of technology. But I can’t. I can’t remember things. My brain is fragmented. If I had more time, I might like poetry. I might spend time reading it. That is a lie. I have all the time in the world. Memory is a problem at my age. Things on the tip of my tongue are tantalizingly tucked away.

Alliteration. Poetry?

Oh! I just remembered an entire class I took on Romantic poets that I absolutely loved. I loved the dissecting. I loved the melancholic, teenager-y, pastoral 19th-century intensity. Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats. I thought “Ode on a Grecian Urn” was the funniest title I’d ever heard.

My yearbook quote was, in fact, from William Wordsworth. How could I have forgotten?

The quote was, “That in this moment there is food and music for future use.”

Oops that’s wrong, I just Googled. The line is, in fact:

“That in this moment there is life and food for future years”

The message rang true to me at 16 or 17: everything around us is a snack to remember, a package of Toast-Chee crackers to horde for the future. (That was my favorite cafeteria snack). Yes, highschool kinda sucks right now, but when I think back on it, in hindsight, there will be many stories to tell.

OR: Watch out friends, this is going in the tell-all.

OR: Where is my stash of crackers, now?

Poetry has always been a little frightening to me. In its compression, poetry can be one of the hardest forms of writing — more things matter. In longer form you can sway and shift and sing and distract.

Every word is meant to be important.

Every. Word.

That’s a ton of pressure.

There is no distraction in poetry.

I struggle on a daily basis with being present. Every therapist, every yogi, every wellness professional I’ve ever interacted with has told me, “You know what? You need to meditate.” But I can’t sit still. My Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother used to call me “Margit the Rutch” — Rutch means someone who can’t sit still. Or as it’s described in Urban Dictionary, to be “shifty in movement, kind of like a hamster.” That me.

My idea of poetry is that it is creativity sitting still, naked on a stool. Nowhere to run, or hide. These are my boobs. This is my heart. No shelter from what is, no filler words to hide your meaning. It just is.

Maybe there aren’t rules? I shouldn’t be so afraid.

Dr Seuss is probably poetry. Certainly the Wu Tang Clan.

I know that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. Or be right on time.

“Keep Poetry Ugly!” My officemate has this maroon red postcard affixed to her bulletin board. I look at it every day. I’m not really sure what ugly poetry looks like. Maybe that’s the point.

My grandfather used to quote Ogden Nash. He wrote limericks. Are limericks poetry? Or are they just limericks. How does a limerick work? I don’t remember. But I remember the joy in my grandfather’s face when he told a limerick, when he spoke of Ogden Nash. His eyes would twinkle, he’d wink, he’d nudge my arm.

“A Flea and a Fly in a Flue!” He’d say.

I don’t recall the limericks being all that funny, I just loved Gramp’s telling.

My husband wrote our vows in the form of a poem. Or at least that’s what they looked like to me — words and curvy, colorful adjectives, he read them line by line. Love expressed in punctuated bursts. Did they fit an exact structure of a poem? I don’t know, but from his mouth, it felt like poetry.

Perhaps my love of poetry is in the joy of hearing the words from someone I love.

My high school pal Wordsworth was a bit of a radical, rebelling against the poetic rigidity of his time to focus on “the spontaneous overflow of feelings” as “recollected in tranquility.” I remember liking him for that. He busted the rules. He meandered. He wandered lonely as a cloud. He also loved exclamation points. Me too!

So it turns out I know a little about poetry, and I know nothing at all.

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Margit Detweiler

Margit Detweiler

Founder of TueNight.com, a storytelling platform for grown-ass women. Founder of Gyrate Media. Fan of Sharpies. Brooklyn denizen. Dinosaur in disguise.