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Poetry has long been part of the lore and history of cultures around the world. But as information has become more readily available and more disposable, more and more people find poetry difficult not only to write, but also to understand. While it has retained its importance as an art form, it has consequently become undervalued as an effective form of communication and expression of true emotion. Indeed, in many circles, poetry is viewed as a tacky and unnecessary form of communication created by few and enjoyed by fewer. But what really makes poetry difficult for many people to enjoy and understand has less to do with poetry’s perceived value and more to do with how people receive information today.
Individuals have considered poetry difficult for as long as it has been around in societies, but in the past, people tended to value poetry because of its complexity rather than shunning it. The fact that they found poetry difficult meant that the words themselves carried weight heavy enough to contain meanings they themselves could not otherwise express. This may be why the love poem became so popular: people sought to express their love and felt their love transcended the very word, so they found poetry and its intricate and complex construction. This became symbolic of their emotion.
If you are one of those people who find poetry difficult to understand or enjoy, try approaching a poem from a different angle. No one will argue that meaning is often hard to come by in a poem, but instead of seeking out meaning, try enjoying the rhythm of a poem, or the sound of the words. Poetry can be musical in a sense, but more so, it can be fun simply to combine words in a new and different way. Seeking meaning can make poetry difficult, but enjoying the poem for its rhythmic qualities can be less daunting and immediately rewarding.
That is not to say, however, that you must abandon the pursuit of meaning. There seems little reason to write anything if there is not meaning behind it, and so a reader of poetry must figure out how to make the poem understandable. The easiest way to do this is to break the poem down into smaller parts and analyze – line by line, if necessary – the smaller meanings of these parts. This then allows the reader to tie all those smaller themes together to understand the overarching meaning behind the text. Start with one line and decipher its meaning. Then move on to the next. And remember: poetry can be very subjective, so often the meaning is what you make it. There are no wrong answers. While you may still consider poetry difficult even after these recommendations, hopefully you can still recognize the value and pleasure in reading it.
I like your discussion about why poetry is difficult. My challenge as an academic tutor is trying to get past the many barriers students put up around poetry reading and interpreting. I find that a good English teacher does the job of engaging a student, but they are few and far between, I think.
Taking it in little bites is a great suggestion - less daunting. I also find that making connections to my student's own life (and to the real world) as we go helps keep them interested.
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