My experience in English class in high school made me wary of poetry. We had to study poetry before taking the AP English exam and the way we talked about poems in class confounded me.
Basically, we read old poetry that didn’t make a lot of sense to me and we were required to write essays about the meaning of it. The kicker was that the student who came up with the most random explanation and description was praised the most. When another student stood up and gave a very different, random explanation that person would likewise be praised. We were basically taught that anything goes. It was a major lesson in learning the art of BS.
I succeeded in English class, but it didn’t help me love poetry. I had enjoyed the old days of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, but from my experience most adult poetry was the kind you had to read three or four times before you understood even a part of it. The more the experts loved it, the less I liked it. To me it seemed they were just stringing words together – it wasn’t meaningful.
It turns out, I just hadn’t met the right poets.
My friend, Kyndall Rae Rothaus, writes poetry. She discovered that poetry unlocked something new within her while on a personal retreat in August 2012. As a lifelong journaler and having written countless academic papers for school as well as sermon manuscripts for her work, Kyndall decided to attend a writing seminar while on the retreat. It was there that she was prompted to write poems. Though she has always written with a poetic cadence, it was her first real exposure to writing free-verse, line-by-line poetry.
“For me, it taps into a deeper place,” Kyndall said. “When I write poetry I focus all my attention on that first line and then I see what that line is asking me to say next and then next and then next … I never plan a poem in the way I might when I write an essay.”
She said it’s like following bread crumbs. Many times she has been surprised by what comes out.
“I end up writing something and I think: Oh! I didn’t know that was what I was feeling.”
One poem with such an effect is "Scandal." She said the poem is about letting anger into her life:
Rage, you fill my roomslike a nosy aunttaking up spacewith large hipsand sharp tongue.I think you a nuisanceuntil I notice youare on a warpathpurging my houseof all the silly doilies,niceties that keep me docile.you are not what you seem! …
Curious? It gets even better from here. You can find the rest of the poem on her blog at www.kyndallrae.wordpress.com.
The Sun Poet's Society
I recently accompanied Kyndall to Barnes and Noble in San Antonio for the Sun Poet's Society, a weekly, open-mic poetry-reading night. Rod Stryker has been the host of this ever-evolving venue for more than 18 years. None in attendance are professionals, but they all have a passion for poetry. The standard set-up is a couple of rows of chairs facing a podium. People sign up and take turns reading their poetry. Poets are encouraged to bring several poems and meet at the San Pedro Crossing Barnes & Noble Tuesdays at 7 p.m.
Stryker was recently nominated for San Antonio Poet Laureate. And speaking of laureates, the Oklahoma Poet Laureate, Nathan Brown, will be the featured reader at Sun Poet's Society on Tuesday, Jan. 28.
On my visit, the group was smaller than usual, so they set the chairs in a circle and did a “round robin” poetry reading instead. With printed papers, notebooks, laptops, or smartphones, the poets read their stuff – sometimes sharing beforehand what precipitated the writing of that poem. The content ranged from Sponge Bob to domestic violence, from monsters under the bed to passionate love.
What impressed me was how vulnerable these people were being with each other. Through their poetry they were baring their souls to strangers. Everyone got applause. There were no critiques. Usually just smiles or nods. I could tell they appreciated having a place to share their work and people to listen.
I don’t know if all poetry reading groups are that kind. But if they are, it makes me think the Church could learn something from poets. We could learn from their creativity, for sure. But what I am thinking about right now is that we could learn from the generous attitudes toward one another. We in the Church should create the kind of place where people are free to share their stories and bare their souls and our response should be one of appreciation. What you have to say matters and your contribution makes our time together better.
Thankfully, I have been a part of several churches that are like that. Maybe not 100 percent of the time, but most of the time. They have encouraged me in self-expression and giving. They are a safe place to be known.
I think I may try my hand at some poetry now. I may discover something within me that I didn’t know was there. And maybe I’ll read some more poetry.
Chansin Esparza is a native Texan who loves traveling and learning new things. Her recent feat was graduating with a Master of Divinity from Baylor University. She will soon move to Austin where she will continue serving her community and enjoying her favorite hobbies such as fitness, writing, and friendships. You can read about the things she's learning at ChansinEsparza.com, from where this post was republished with permission.