I heard the slam of the book as it hit the porch. Excited, I ran to the front door, lifted my newest treasure and tore the bubble wrap open with glee. My American Literature textbook had arrived and I looked forward to spending long hours reading the works of great authors like Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. As I flipped through the pages, I felt a cold icy chill travel up my spine as I discovered that the textbook contained poems, lots of poems, millions of poems by authors such as Emily Dickinson, Anne Bradstreet and that really freaky Poe guy who wrote about a raven pecking at his window. I sat back in horror as I remembered the long, agonizing hours in high school that I spent hunched over Shakespeare’s iambic pentameters only to receive a dismal C in English Literature.
The disappointing experience I endured in high school led to a severe fear of all words strung together in a rhythmic pattern. As a child, I didn’t even read Dr. Seuss. I would rather have a root canal than read a poem. Poetry doesn’t make sense to me. And a lot of it doesn’t even rhyme! I was convinced that the poets were going to kick my butt. Again! But, I had no choice. I would have to rely on my instructor’s help; I would have to push aside my distaste for poetry, and I would have to gather the courage to explore and discover the beauty in the poet’s words. Only then would I be prepared to conquer those poets.
I relied on my instructor to show me the way. To lead me, like Moses led his people through the desert, through the labyrinth of metaphors, couplets and the confusing world of onomatopoeia. I depended on my instructor to provide the necessary resources, such as videos and audio tapes ease my way in learning to learn how to read poetry and the different techniques that different poets used. I also expected my instructor to nudge me in the right direction if I should run astray or stumble in the wrong direction during my travels through the course. My instructor did all that and I thank him for his patience as I bombarded him with endless questions.
But, I knew that I would also have to fulfill my role as a student to conquer those poets. I had to open my mind and push aside all my preconceptions about poetry. I had to recognize that my bias against this genre of writing was based solely on my high school experience. I knew that many people love poetry and that there are many authors out there who excel in taking their readers into unknown worlds such as: the aforementioned Dickinson, Bradstreet and don’t forget the crazy guy with the bird. I had to bury those memories and start with a clean slate if I was to have any hope of leaving this class with a respectable grade. Once I made the commitment to approach poetry with an open mind, I started to feel that I might have a chance to conquer my poetry demons and could actually do well in the class. I was amazed when I realized one day that I was not only understanding what I was reading, I was enjoying it.
However, my role as a student didn’t end with a commitment and a willingness to bury the hatchet when it came to reading poetry. I needed to go further than the techniques involved to truly appreciate and understand the words of the poets. I had to be willing to explore the world behind the words. I had to let my imagination fly as I watched the metaphors take wing and soar from the poets pens. I had to discover the world that the writers lived in by imagining I was looking through their eyes. Dickinson world was filled with flowers, her religious beliefs and she used metaphors to describe her feelings about the world around her. Bradstreet was a Puritan who wrote about her town, her family and the pleasures she took in the simple things in life. Poe, well, he was a very disturbed young man who put his dark thoughts into words and shared his pain, his fears and his scary nightmares with his readers. By digging deeper and discovering the poet’s personal worlds, I was better able to understand their works and the beauty behind their works.
In the end, due to the help and resources provided by my instructor, my commitment to approach the subject with an open mind and my willingness to take the extra journey of discovery to find just what inspired the poets, I was able to lasso a very respectable A+ in my American Literature course. I also left the course with a better understanding and appreciation for the writers of this genre and I no longer groan when I see a book a poems on the shelves of the local bookstore. I may never quote Keats to impress someone. But I can now speak with confidence when I say that if I was stranded on a desert island and only two books washed ashore, one being Stephen King’s newest novel and the other a book of works by Maya Angelou, I would not consider using the poetry book as kindling. That’s a sure sign that I’ve conquered those poets, don’t you agree?
I have to go now. There’s a huge, dark raven tapping on my sliding glass door. I think he has something to say.