I remember when I was first introduced to “real” poetry.
I was a sophomore in high school. My lit teacher handed me a piece of paper with a few lines of words on it. She stood in front of the class and said, “All right, just analyze the poem.”
It was called “Singapore” by Mary Oliver, and I was at an utter loss. I’d never heard of Oliver, I wasn’t really sure where Singapore was on a map, and I certainly didn’t know what it meant to “just analyze” a poem.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this moment; when I was told I was finally being introduced to “real” poetry, the nitty gritty of literature. At first I was intimidated, but I got the hang of “just analyzing” poetry, just like I had gotten the hang of “just analyzing” the greatest novels and essays produced by humanity.
At the end of my high school career — after I had spent one hour every weekday for three years tearing apart some of the worlds greatest pieces of written art — my aunt gave me a book of poems by Billy Collins.
One of the poems in the collection is called, “An Introduction to Poetry,” a fairly well-known poem about how the speaker wants readers to just enjoy and feel the poem, but they instead torture it until it confesses its meaning.
It was then that I realized I had forgotten my childish naivety. I had forgotten how to look at a book, a paragraph, a sentence, a poem, a line, even a single word, and enjoy the feeling of its sound as it rolls off my tongue or the look of it on a page.
I realized “just analyzing” had taught me to take the word “LOVE” — one of the most powerful and mesmerizing words to say, hear or read in the English language — and kill it. I learned to dissect it until all I could see was the right angle of the L, the curves of the O, the point of the V and the three-pronged asymmetry of the E.
I have made an effort since to try to see the poetry in everyday life — in a conversation overheard in the Caf, in a preacher’s words, in a child’s questions. I have tried to be the poet who is inside all of us: a shaper of words, a former of phrases, a crafter of ideas, a translator of thoughts.
I have tried to not just take a book and hold a knife to its throat until it gives up its money, but admire it in all its stunning glory, develop a relationship with it, and then maybe I’ll ask it to lend me a dollar.
That doesn’t mean I think we should never try to break down an awesome work of literature. Humans are brilliant. Each has so much insight to offer, and often times, one intentionally chooses hide those nuggets of genius in an excessive amount of ambiguous black ink.
But perhaps the meaning — perhaps the destination — isn’t the most important part. Perhaps it’s the words. Perhaps it’s the journey.
As published in the Feb. 13 issue of the Pepperdine Graphic.