A Guest Post By Claudiu Revnic.
When I was a teenager poetry and rhymes didn’t appeal unless it was in the form of a heavy guitar riff accompanied by a screaming, angry, disenchanted male voice. Poetry was the stuff of birthday cards, of love letters and compulsory school readings.
Poetry wasn’t for me. I felt that it couldn’t possibly express my feelings. Poetry seemed out of tune with my own experiences.
How I Started to Appreciate Poetry
It took me a long time to realise that there is something uplifting and universal about poetry that no other literary art form can emulate. But in school, the emphasis is on the technical and linguistic aspects of poetry.
They seemed contrived, stiff and pompous, like doing a floral arrangement out of plastic flowers. What I didn’t understand was that somebody’s personal feelings were contained in a poem.
Keats felt the same emotions of being infatuated with a girl that I had felt in high school. T.S. Elliott described how I felt out of place and alienated. Poets carry with them these feelings that we tend to deny. Instead of burying those feelings, they give voice to them in the form of poetry.
My turning point was learning the story behind the poets as well as reading more down-to-earth poetry. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was one such example. He encapsulates the swing of emotions that the most banal everyday occurrences can spark. Also, reading about his personal trials and tribulations helped me get close to him.
Poetry Changes Lives
When I met somebody who was passionate about poetry I was intrigued. Christopher Burns is an addiction therapist and a lifelong fan of poetry, both ancient and modern. He recently published a book called Poetry Changes Lives, a day by day collection of historical events and poems, where, for example, an important battle is linked by a poem that conveys a particular emotion. Every historical occurrence can generate emotions, even centuries later.
If I had seen this book when I was a teenager it might have helped me see the human side of both poetry and history.
One particular entry in the book that helped me see how much we overlook poetry concerns Mozart’s birth. Instead of praising his genius Christopher Burns focuses on Mozart’s deep affection for his pet starling, citing a poem a young Mozart had written for his pet’s funeral. For me, that particular text says more about Mozart’s sensibility than a hundred references to the excellence of his concertos.
In school we would discuss cultural personalities as lifeless statues and were commanded to manifest awe in the face of monuments. It didn’t work.
This tells me that we overlook something essential in teaching both history and literature: to show the humanity of those involved. Showing how Kennedy perceived his own vulnerability through his love for Alan Seeger’s melancholic poems turns him into a real individual aware of the high stakes of his actions, not a perfect-decision-making-demigod.
Poetry Changes Lives not only showcases the humanity of poems, it also shows how poetry can reveal the sensibility of historical events. Poetry can help people realise that they are not alone in their experiences.
Poetry can also help teenagers understand their feelings and their loneliness. It all depends on the way it is presented to them. And Christopher Burns might just have the key to that.
Claudiu Revnic is a freelance writer and graphic-novel publisher. He lives in Bucharest, Romania
Poetry Changes Lives is being launched in Edinburgh on Friday 8th April, at 19:30 at the Serenity Cafe, The Tun, 8 Jacksons Entry, EH8 8PJ.