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Do you like music?

Updated: Aug 28, 2019

—Um. Sure.

—OK, here's some heavy metal.


—Oh, man, that's awful! Turn it off!

—I thought you said you liked music?

I'm reading a book by the poet and professor, Stephanie Burt, called Don't Read Poetry. Her main idea is so obvious and yet no one’s ever said it before, as far as I know.

Her idea is this. Poetry is no more one thing than music is. Or painting, for that matter. Almost everyone loves some kinds of music and not others. I like pop music more than, say, opera. Within pop music, I love the Beatles but not Beyoncé.

What’s more, says Burt, we listen to different kinds of music for different things and different moods. I put on one kind to dance to, one kind to relax to, and one kind to listen carefully to.

It’s the same with poetry. You may hate some and love some. And you may love some for different reasons than you love others. (I just realized, it’s the same with people too.)

Only you know for you.

But many—probably most—of us were introduced to “poetry” in school. Maybe it was Shakespeare, or Matthew Arnold, or Robert Frost. “Here’s poetry,” our teachers told us. “You should like this.” Many of us said to ourselves, “Uh, not so much.” Then we figured we must not like poetry.

You might want, at some point, to broaden your horizons and explore different kinds of music or poetry and see if you can learn to appreciate it more. Life’s pretty short, though, and I have no immediate plans to listen to Puccini any longer than politeness dictates.

There are a lot of poems out there, just like there’s a lot of music. Just because one kind is popular now, whether in academia or in journals or among critics or on the web, doesn’t mean it’s the only or the best kind. Just as with songs, some poems may take a little more digging to discover. (A lot of good things do.)

Stephanie Burt talks about six reasons to read not “poetry” (what the hell is poetry?) but poems. She talks about lyric poetry or storytelling poetry and so on. You can read her book if you’re interested.

I don’t care much what things are called. I liked the sense of liberation her book gives.

One reason she offers for enjoying a poem is just for the sound of the words. In that spirit, here’s an older poem of mine that I just revised.

i want words

to tumble

like little friends carousing

through a tavern

door singing

a stupid

and glorious song

i want them free

to roam and grab

those things

with signs

that say don’t touch

and i want them

to go on

and on and not


they’ve a thing to say

but just to fall

and trip and laugh

and rise and dust

away the dirt

or suck from a finger’s

cut, the blood


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