Yesterday was National Bad Poetry Day.
And as Women of the ELCA’s resident poetry lover, it’s a privilege to have this opportunity to discuss poetry with you–even if the discussion is about bad poetry, rather than the good.
So what is bad poetry? Perhaps you’re saying right now, “Sarah, isn’t all poetry bad?”
You’re funny, but you’re not alone in that sentiment. In a country where 75 percent of us have made time to read at least one book in the last year, only 12 percent of us have read a poem.
Poetry has a bad reputation. If it’s not known for being obscure and difficult to understand, then it’s thought of as silly, sing-songy and trite.
When I was a young undergraduate student dreaming of one day unleashing my carefully crafted verse on the world, I handed in a poem I’d written to a professor. Inspired by a lovely week I’d spent at the beach, the lines meandered through the sunny scenery, the waves on the water, the boats on the horizon.
In other words…
My professor looked at it and said: “This is the kind of poem that people think poetry is.”
In other words, he was saying that it was a bad poem.
Bad poetry says the things that don’t need saying—which is why so many of us roll our eyes at it. Or even worse, bad poetry, like my lines about the beach, says nothing at all.
Good poetry expresses the unsayable
But we should savor good poetry. Good poetry gives words to the unsayable. It expresses our deepest fears, our highest hopes, our shared humanity–like this poem by Maggie Smith in which she continues to remind herself that the world is, indeed, a place worth inhabiting.
Or here’s a poem by an obscure poet you’ve never heard of that also isn’t half bad, even if I do say so myself.
The power of poetry
Of course, we Christians should know the power of poetry better than anyone. Every Sunday, we come together to hear and recite it. Those psalms of praise, those prophetic declarations of the Old Testament, even that famous, Genesis 1 retelling of how the world began. Those are poems!
As the Rev. Anna Madsen writes in Gather magazine’s upcoming Bible study on the poetry of the Old Testament, “…the community of Israel created patterns of shared liturgy, expressing their emotions and hope in response to stressful and painful events. Found in biblical poetry, these are resources upon which we can draw today.”
Poetry gives us language to express what we may not otherwise be able to. It can connect us.
Poetry gives us language to express what we may not otherwise be able to. It can connect us. It can free us from the burden of the feelings we don’t have language to communicate.
So how should we celebrate Bad Poetry Day? Should we put on our berets and head down to the local open mic to laugh at some limericks?
No. We should celebrate Bad Poetry Day by celebrating what bad poetry cannot do.
We should open our Bibles. We should open our hymnals. Or, for goodness sake, we should go down to the library and check out a book of poetry.
Sarah Carson is the associate editor of Gather magazine. To learn more about how poetry can be an expression of faith, check out Gather’s fall Bible study, “No hard feelings?” by Anna Madsen.
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