How I learned to love poetry

Like carrot juice and tuna fish, I used to hate poetry. Unlike carrot juice and tuna fish, though, poetry is more a preference than a taste. I couldn’t just eat enough of it. Some of the principles crossover, but some don’t. To learn to like poetry, I thought I had to develop a new method.

First, I tried reading poetry that seemed interesting. This did not work. I didn’t know where to look. I didn’t know what I’d like. I didn’t have enough motivation to weed through all the junk.

When I tutored my sister for a year or so, I read a few poems with her. She even memorized them. At that point, I began to like the idea of poetry, the verse, the rhythm. But still, it didn’t stick out as something I enjoyed.

Everyone said I needed to go to live readings, that listening to poets read their poetry would help me develop an appreciation for it.

I once attended a live reading with my brother at my university. I remember being intrigued but still thinking the whole thing was pretty lame. Looking back, I think that was mostly because the poets were lame.

I turned instead to YouTube. I searched “How to appreciate poetry” and discovered a few videos. What I really wanted – and I’m pretty sure I mentioned this in my post on wanting help with poetry – was for someone to break down a poem for me, line by line, explaining what was going on.

But that’s not what I needed.

One day, someone posted a video. It popped up in my Facebook feed or some other feed I follow: “I’m Sorry I’m a Christian.” I didn’t know for sure what I thought of that. I just knew it wasn’t the same as the other poetry I’d read and heard before. That one said something.

So I searched for other slam poetry, poetry that says something. I discovered a few others I can’t recall now. And then I walked away.

I forgot about all that again for months until, once again, I stumbled on a slam poet: Taylor Mali. His most famous poem, “What Teachers Make,” seems to have created the spark that eventually allowed him to become one of the world’s few professional poets.

But that wasn’t the poem that kept my attention. I moved on, clicking and clicking through all his poems online. A few of his other ones on teaching and language caught my attention, poems like “Miracle Workers” and “Totally Like Whatever, You Know?” and “Like Lilly Like Wilson Like.”

I enjoyed these because, at least I felt at the time, they helped me actually connect with the poet. I felt like I could understand who he was.

But those weren’t the poems that made my love poetry, not really. They helped me move in that direction, but the poems that changed my mind, the ones I’ll always remember, came out of nowhere. The others I’d watched kept my attention with humor. The last few took a different approach.

I call them his sorrow poems. The first one I heard, “For the Life of Me,” peaked my curiosity. Did his wife really kill herself? “Entire Act of Sorrow” confirmed it. Finally, as I listened to “Depression Too Is a Type of Fire,” it hit me that before these sorrow poems, I really knew nothing of Taylor Mali. After them, though, I’d caught a glimpse.

I realized suddenly that I wanted to write poetry. And that’s when I knew I’d learned to love it.

Later, I went on to discover others like Sarah Key, especially her presentation on TED (I’m pretty sure I want to marry her — no offense, Taylor). I like the spoken poems. I like the stories. I like the ones that say something.

All those poetry lovers who suggested I needed to listen to poems live or just needed to find the right kind — they were right. I heard it. I found it. I love it now.

And it’s not all that different from carrot juice or tuna fish.