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Opinion: A love letter to poetry

Poetry is a friend in which to find solace.
Image by Sarah Mai

What is more exciting than finding a poem for every period you’re going through? Wouldn’t it create a sense of connection with a particular person in this world (the poet, in this case) who seems to understand what you are going through?

Poetry has been for so long either romanticized or totally dismissed. Those who love poetry seem to have the usual argument with those who don’t: “Poetry isn’t boring! It’s just that you didn’t feel any connection with it yet!” or perhaps more typically, “Poetry is for those who find meaning in everything, even in blank walls.”

Regardless of whether you love poetry or hate it (hopefully, you don’t), you should memorize a poem that interests you and try to recite it sometime in an unexpected place or during an unexpected situation. The feeling one gets while they are reciting a poem is priceless because although you’re reciting someone else’s words, you internalize the words and read them as if they were yours.

For me, poetry has been my friend for more than a decade. A difficult friendship though it is, our friendship has always been stable. I have always been the one who finds solace in it, and it has never minded being my solace.

I was a first-grader in a suburban city in southwestern Damascus when I heard my school was hosting a poetry recitation contest. It was then that I began memorizing poems and enthusiastically reciting them in front of the whole school. I never imagined performing in front of so many teachers (there weren’t that many, to be honest), let alone the whole school, so it was my first time stepping out of my comfort zone. I memorized classical Arabic poetry (poems of Ibn Zaydun, Al-Farazdaq, etc.). That year, I won first place in the poetry recitation category, which was such a great incentive for me to participate the following year, which I undoubtedly did. To cut a long story short, stepping out of my comfort zone was the path that led me to poetry. But aren’t we all led to poetry through a path we never imagined we would take?

Since then, I have delved into poetry, and after moving to the U.S. (and improving my English), I began reading poems by American poets (Marianne Moore, W.S. Merwin, Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Parker, etc.). Poetry has a magical power in introducing you to the core of any culture or community you would like to learn about or interact with.

When I was a high school senior, I participated in the Poetry Out Loud program—a great program. The Minnesota-native poet Lisa Higgs and the theater performer Amanda Ruggeri coached us. For the first time in my life, I got to enjoy the process of analyzing poetry. Although I’ve always loved poetry, I dreaded the poetry analysis unit in my English classes. However, these two coaches had a different approach to analyzing poems, which was why I began enjoying this process. I learned that complicating the analysis of any poem won’t help you understand it better, so you should go through this process step by step. If you understand the speaker of the poem, be it the poet or a persona, then you’ve taken the first step toward understanding it. Then, they taught us a very important lesson: “One can’t perform a poem if one doesn’t understand it.” The beauty of poetry lies in our understanding of it.

Now back to reading poetry: I have a specific poet for every mood and feeling. For example, when I want to read witty or sarcastic poems, Dorothy Parker shakes my hand and welcomes me to her kingdom of wittiness. I read Elia Abu Madi for optimism, Marie Howe for grief and the exceptional poets Ahmed Shawqi and Muhammad al-Jawahiri for every mood.

As I walked across campus during the fall and saw how beautifully built Northrop is, I quietly recited a poem to myself. Although there hasn’t been any scientific evidence to prove it yet, I feel that fall goes hand-in-hand with poetry. I don’t know if it’s the beauty of fall that beautifies poetry or vice versa, but all I can say is that I feel they complement each other. I see the leaves fall, and all I can think of is a poem, either about the season or about whatever feeling I’m experiencing at that moment. As I commute to campus each morning, I hum to myself either Sara Teasdale’s beautiful poem “A Morning Song” or (one of my all-time favorite poets) Edgar Albert Guest’s poem “On Quitting,” which I read when I feel very challenged and on the verge of quitting.


Amina Hasan is a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

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