Read Poetry, The Truth is Inside

In a recent interview, Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild), was asked what singular piece of advice she would give to people in their twenties. Her answer:

“Go to a bookstore and buy ten books of poetry and read them each five times.”

“Why?”

and so she responded, “because the truth is inside.”

When I read this, I literally stopped breathing. It was as if all of my musings about poetry and its power had been answered in 4 words: The Truth is Inside. Since I was a young child, I have always felt a calling to poetry. I am drawn to the syntax, the simplicity, the complexity, the way particular lines stay with you for days, sometimes years. I enjoy the way poetry is painted, how its shape on the page has an impact on the reader.

For years, I carried around a notebook with a da Vinci angel on the cover, and wrote silly verses about my little brothers and baking. It was given to me by my mother’s friend, Liz, a painter, who had always encouraged me to write. But poetry isn’t exactly what other kids want to talk about at the lunch table, so for many years, our affair was a private one. In high school and college, I sought out other English students who shared my affinity for poets and I began to read it obsessively.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way -p. neruda

My advice for the novice reader: Be curious. Let go of your preconceived notions. Don’t search for meaning, let it call out to you. Allow the rhythm and punctuation to emphasize and amplify words for you. Poetry is incantation, enchantment, prayer. It is as Strayed and Rich would say, “a common language”. Give it a shot without judgement; I guarantee you’ll surprise yourself.

Below is a list of my most recent favorites, and some classics for you to start with.

Others I hold dear:

  • The Collected Poems, Sylvia Plath
  • Love Poems, Pablo Neruda
  • Paradise Lost, John Milton
  • The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
  • 100 Selected Poems, E.E. Cummings
  • Song of Myself, Walt Whitman

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