If you still have not figured out my awful portmanteau – it is poetry and January combined! I have tried to highlight the very essence of reading poetry: blank stares at any dead poet’s convoluting choices and arrangements of words. Disclaimer, I am in no way a poet, or dead for that matter, but an English fresher about to make Poetruary my New Year’s resolution. Now, why would I read a poem a day throughout January? Ironically, even poets do not want to trouble themselves with poetry. Here is the American modernist poet Marianne Moore’s take:
I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
It is hard to argue with Moore right? Not exactly. The line above is taken from her poem Poetry (1925), and these are her concluding words: ‘we do not admire what we cannot understand;/ enigmas are not poetry.’ She highlights the very crux of my argument: if poetry is what we can understand, then which poems classify as ‘poetry’ for you will differ from another person. Do not bother with poems that you find are a ‘fiddle.’ Poetry is a multifaceted genre with a variety of audiences: you need to find your kind of poetry to start liking it, and Poetruary is your chance.
Poets often describe the very exact feelings of everyday life with an uncanny resemblance to ours. January is notorious for bringing up feelings of deflation, or worse, an existential crisis. The thought of restarting a year, of doing everything again can feel like a backwards move. There’s a poem for such existential dread: Emily Dickinson’s I’m Nobody! Who are you?
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one's name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Dickinson gives this intangible feeling of being a ‘Nobody’ some physicality whenever we read it, either out loud or in our head. This shared sense of dread – ‘Then there’s a pair of us!’ – helps us feel a little less lost, a little less of a ‘Nobody.’ Reading poems helps to release us from a state when we are stuck putting our feelings into concrete words.
Without a doubt, this January will also be a lot more difficult for everyone, and a lot more for people from areas in tighter forms of restrictions. We can find ourselves more on our own, doing things alone, and our daily interactions limited to social media. This may sound gloomy but not to William Wordsworth in his poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. If you find yourself unable to go for a walk, poems like Wordsworth’s can take you on a romanticized walk in your head, and even better, from your couch. In the poem, the vivid imagery of daffodils, trees, a lake, and stars are the product of the narrator’s daydreaming (from a couch too!) which Wordsworth describes as the ‘bliss of solitude.’ The innocence of imagination, the sense of freedom, and the dream-like quality of the poem are sure to fight the solitary and bleak tones of January, and Wordsworth’s poem is just an example out of many more.
And lastly, poets are more like us than we are like them. Whilst this may not be true for all poets, it is with Robert Frost (all pun intended on his name as we discuss more of the upcoming wintry January). What’s so calming about Frost’s poems is their simplicity when everything seems complicated in this pandemic. Here are some of the titles in an anthology from a glance: My Butterfly, The Telephone, The Cow in Apple Time, Maple, and Blue-Butterfly Day. His poems are often based on remote places, set in winter, with only the narrator and nature. Dust of snow, for example, is a simple act of nature appreciation:
The way a crow Shook down on me The dust of snow From a hemlock tree Has given my heart A change of mood And saved some part Of a day I had rued.
The shortness of the poem, the uncomplicated rhyme, and the galloping rhythm of the lines capture the very fiddle-less composure of the poem. It captures a moment we will not remember if it were to happen to us, but the eight lines draw our whole attention to the unnoticed. Reading poems, like Frost’s, make us question why we are so caught up in the idea of mass socializing, sunny weather, and longer days when the brief solitude, colder weather, and shorter days can be equally pleasing if we take a step back to give more time to winter, and to January. Maybe the New Year will not be so bad after all if we take up the habit of reading poems a little more often.