When someone mentions reading poetry, I'm transported back to my damp and dank GCSE English classroom. It's a Tuesday afternoon and your teacher is insisting upon the incessant dissection of Shakespeare's sonnets or some morose William Blake. The words on the page no longer hold meaning, stripping them down to uncover hidden devices and formal properties which end up ridding the poems of their integrity and thematic magic. You cry. Joking. Unless…
GCSE English ruined poetry for me; to the point where I saw it as a chore. I could not possibly understand why someone would choose to read it for fun. Why are you so much more impressive than me!?
It wasn't until I was at work one Saturday and was perusing our new books, when I stumbled across Kate Baer's 'I Hope This Finds You Well'. The short collection of poems chronicles Baer's repurposing of hate mail that she has received in response to her past transgressive works. She takes antagonistic and degrading comments and recycles words out of these messages into one of hope and love. A personal favourite is:
The sheer approachability and transparency of the poetry stunned me. I have rarely been moved by poetry before, only daring to approach it for leisure in a brief strive to better myself and become 'that girl'. I only ever end up forcing myself to painstakingly analyse the poetry in front of me (thank you GCSEs), the pressure of whether or not I fully understand what is going on underscoring my vain attempt to be cultured.
Our ethos at Rare Birds is to strip back the prejudice around books, older and more established texts are no more impressive than reading a smutty romcom (I'm looking at you, Rachel). The same goes for poetry, I got more out of Kate Baer's easy-going and accessible poetry then I ever would from a Shakespearean sonnet. It’s what you personally get out of it that makes poetry so great, not what other people think of you for reading it.
This message is also integral to the form of Baer's collection, she has taken something thrusted upon her and repurposed it for her own pleasure and joy. Baer sets an admirable precedent that we can extend into our venture through poetry; remember it is what you get from it, not whether you are right or wrong or understand it how the poet intended. That's the beauty of poetry - the more weird and wrong you are, the better!
Down with the poetry snobs!