By Ronda Simmons
Originally posted February 20, 2020
I liked poetry in high school. Loved it, even. In that time and place, the only people who got enthusiastic about poetry were the English teachers, and even some of them weren’t keen. These were the days before being a nerd was cool. Kids my age were into popular music, popular culture, and football. I learned to keep my poetic inclinations to myself, none of my friends would have understood.
I’m not a poet. I’ve never pretended to be.
Except for one, Gretchen, who gave me A Treasury of the World’s Best-Loved Poems one year for Christmas. She wrote on the title page that I should read The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes first, which I did. Such a tragic and beautiful poem. The first lines of this poem about a haunted New England roadhouse pulled me in:
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
Bess, the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, shot herself to warn her rogue lover that an ambush of Red Coats awaited him. How wonderfully romantic! It broke my 15-year-old heart.
I’ve taken that volume of poetry everywhere I have lived in the world. It has always had pride of place on my bookshelf. Still, I never thought I could write poetry myself beyond the usually terrible limerick:
There once was a guy from the Rockies
Who liked to parade in his Jockeys.
He got quite a scare
From a wandering bear
Who was strutting around in his khakis.
Don’t give up my day job, I know, but that won’t stop me from reading poetry, and writing some, and using what I learn to improve my prose. In poetry, every word is essential. Learning how to use language effectively is part of how you can draw your reader in and train their attention on the things you want them to notice. It can influence their emotions as they read. It can make your writing so much better.
So even if you aren’t a poet, I encourage you to study poems. Take a class or attend a poetry session at the next writing conference. (Here’s a good one: https://northerncoloradowriters.com/Conference ). Fall in love with words again, your writing will improve. Poetry can make that happen.