Poetry News

Matthew Zapruder Celebrates Poetry’s ‘True Strangeness’

By Harriet Staff
Matthew Zapruder

How did you learn about poetry in school? In his latest op-ed at the New York Times, Matthew Zapruder yearns for a different style of poetry pedagogy, specifically for the K-12 classroom. He begins: “Do you remember, as I do, how in the classroom poems were so often taught as if they were riddles? What is the poet really trying to say here?” From there: 

What is the theme or message of this poem? What does this word “purple” or “flower” or “grass” really mean? Like classical music, poetry has an unfortunate reputation for requiring special training and education to appreciate, which takes readers away from its true strangeness, and makes most of us feel as if we haven’t studied enough to read it.

This attitude is pervasive. To take just one example, in his introduction to “The Best Poems of the English Language,” Harold Bloom writes, “The art of reading poetry begins with mastering allusiveness in particular poems, from the simple to the very complex.” This sounds completely reasonable, but is totally wrong. The art of reading poetry doesn’t begin with thinking about historical moments or great philosophies. It begins with reading the words of the poems themselves.

As much as we might have enjoyed reading (and writing) poetry when we were children, in school we are taught that poetry is inherently “difficult,” and that by its very nature it somehow makes meaning by hiding meaning. So our efforts at reading poetry begin to reflect this. But it turns out that the portal to the strange is the literal. As a teacher, I’ve found that regardless of how open or resistant my literature students initially are to poetry, real progress begins when they get literal with the words on the page. I ask them to pick one interesting word, then go to the library and investigate that word.

Read on at the New York Times.

Originally Published: July 10th, 2017