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Turn Up the Heat with Poetry

Most people don’t consider themselves poetry readers, but reading poetry can be an incredible experience. If you’re interested in finding poetry you can love, want to try reading poetry for the first time, or just want to tick off a challenge for Turn Up The Heat, read on.

Why is reading poetry so ‘hard’?

Poetry can be more difficult to read than prose. The concentration of meaning into just a few words or lines can be overwhelming, or onerous to parse. If the poem is too dense, it can make the reader fee dense – and we don’t like doing things we’re not good at. Sometimes you just need to find a way in: a tiny piece of language you can relate to, and it will unlock the whole poem. Sometimes you can read a poem multiple times and it will stay closed to you.

Many of us remember poetry as something we had to read at school – as a former English teacher, I know the most hated exam was the unfamiliar text paper – although in some ways it is also the easiest four credits in NCEA. There’s also the fact that the process of studying or analysing something – even if it’s a book or film we enjoy – can make us lose appreciation for it. I will always love Frank Darabont’s 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption but I can’t watch the scene where Andy Dufresne stands in the rain after the sewers without flashbacks to 6th form English. Negative experiences from the past play a huge role in the reading material we choose as adults – or whether we choose to read at all.

I encourage everyone to put aside those memories and look at poetry with a fresh perspective. Think of it as music, and not just because a lot of poetry is better read aloud. If you went into a music store (do such places still exist?) and picked up a random album, regardless of genre, how many of those songs would you expect to enjoy? The trick to liking poetry is finding the right poetry for you. The problem with ‘learning’ poetry in school is that the teacher or examiner has picked a poem for you, without actually knowing you, or what you like. It’s also good to remember that you can like a song without understanding it, and it’s the same with poetry.

With that in mind, our librarians have selected some ‘accessible’ poetry for you. If you don’t like what we suggest, ask us about poetry we don’t like… it might be your jam.

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I’ve recommended Tayi Tibble’s Poūkahangatus before and I stand by it. She’s since published the also excellent Rangikura.

Other collections by Kiwi poets include Hinemoana Baker’s Funkhaus, Airini BeautraisDear Neil Roberts, Hera Lindsay Bird’s self-titled collection, Jenny Bornholdt’s Lost and somewhere else, Anne Kennedy’s The sea walks into a wall, Cilla McQueen’s Poeta: selected and new poems, Selina Tusitala Marsh’s Tightrope, Gregory O’Brien’s Whale years, Freya Daly Sadgrove’s Head girl, Ruby Solly’s Tōku pāpā, or Apriana Taylor’s Whakapapa [sound recording]

For something extremely light, try Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Gmorning, gnight! Little pep talks for me & you. Some of it’s poetry, and some of it’s just tweets, but it’s all easy to read, Twitter-length and adorably illustrated by Jonny Sun.

Mary Oliver is a beloved American poet; musician Halsey and actress Samantha Jayne have both released poetry books, and Hassan al Nawwab is a powerful Iraqi immigrant voice out of Australia

If you like Margaret Atwood’s novels (the most well-known is The handmaid’s tale, and The testaments won the Booker Prize in 2019) try her poetry. She’s published over 20 collections, but her most recent are The door and Dearly.

If none of these tickle your fancy, browse the 821 section in non-fiction and see if you can find something that does.

22 July 2022

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