Opinion: Poetry is Garbage?

by Elizabeth O’Donnell
BHS News

“Poetry is garbage.”

Upon walking into class a fellow student spoke these fateful words. We pointed, we laughed, we made fun of him, and then we sat down. As a fan of poetry, from Anne Sexton to Shakespeare, Maya Angelou to Edgar Allen Poe, from Oscar Wilde to John Donne, from Dickens to Dickenson, I was astounded, shocked, flabbergasted. Poetry analogous to garbage? Who would dare? Then our teacher showed us a poem by, my arch nemesis, Wordsworth. Reading the poem, as my enemy gnawed at my patience, I realized that my fellow peer’s argument, had method to it.

Poetry, with words and rhythm, breathes life to philosophy and wisdom. It describes to us humans the human experience, and stood the test of time solely with grounded similes, metaphors, and plots. Poetry: transcending. But predicaments in the modern educational system set up students to automatically give up on this art.

Personally the one woman who disillusioned me was no other, than Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. I was just a child, so young, so naive, so trusting of the world: then I read “Jealousy”, “Marriage”, and “A Moment”. While I suffered this great betrayal in somber silence, the girl next to me turned around, looked upon my screen, and gave an “eh”.

Everything that I would soon detest in poetry, found a home within her words: a haughty tone, decorative words or references, and the overthrow of concrete material for the sake of hyperboles. And the worst part: when the average teenager thinks of poetry, they often think of this.
I remember the shock of my entire English class when told that, apparently, poetry was not poetry simply because it involved love: I was in a level one course, in middle school. But of course children only know of the poems that the school system exposed them to, particularly in preschool, elementary, and even middle school. Each poem so similar to the next, we grew up assuming that they reflected the majority of poetry. In reality those poems cannot compete with the vast variety of poetry that the greats left for us. Nor can they compete for the attention of children who cannot relate to them.

Most children do not find interest in, nor do they relate to, the overabounding glee that those child targeting poets bragged about. Some children come home to broken houses and think of suicide: Anne Sexton. Some children have the state pay for their meals: Charles Dickens. Some children have seen both life and death in their family or through their friends: Emily Dickinson. Some children are in the closet: Oscar Wilde. Some children do not know much of their heritage: Langston and Maya Angelou. And some children just like blood and guts, murder, and things that go bump in the night: Edgar Allen Poe.

Sure, some children will not love poetry, but it will give them the opportunity to decide that on their own. If you offer children real poetry the right students, the potential poets, authors, readers, critics, and teachers, will pay attention. Giving them the opportunity to at least experience it, all of it, is enough. Poetry is not garbage: it is worth the attempt.