Over the past sixty years, poetry has developed a reputation among high school students for stodginess, complexity, and mechanical twists and turns that only the most hallowed of literary minds could hope to understand, much less care about. I have learned this not only from my own experiences as a high school student long, long ago but from my current students, who I teach in my life outside of blog writing. Poetry is boring and laden with an air of inaccessible mystery, they tell me. This, I tell them in return, is how much of the populace views World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. Video games, like poetry, are often inaccessible to the lay person unfamiliar with a sixteen-button controller. Their power and novelty are lost behind an iron curtain composed of technical skills and erudite understandings beyond the grasp of the outsider.
When I teach poetry, then, I try not to get caught up in the mechanics—at least not at first. I try to imbue the reading of poetry with a sense of novelty, with the idea that these are not incomprehensible puzzles created by some Kafka-esque madman to drive fourteen year olds insane. More, they are bits of thought and feeling, slivers of experience and reflection, carefully arranged to create in the reader a sensation, to translate feelings from person to person. We watch YouTube videos and short scenes from My Neighbor Totoro and I ask them, is this not a poem as well? A small bit of emotion that is here to convey to you some undefined—yet clearly felt—experience.