Power of poetry
Poetry can be intimidating to many people. Or, when thinking of poetry, we immediately find adjectives like “boring,” “stiff” or “old” rising in our heads.
I assure you, a recently published collection called “Poetry to the People” is anything but boring. It is, in fact, compiled just for you, to move you and to change the way you think about poetry as a whole.
“Poetry to the People” is a compilation of poems by Oklahoma poets, writing on many themes and from many time periods. For example, you will find a collaborative blues poem by the prisoners of Stringtown Prison in Oklahoma, as well as “Hard Luck Okie,” a poem by Roy Turner, recorded by the Library of Congress at a migrant farmer’s camp in the 1930s.
Contributors include nationally recognized poets such as Ron Padgett, Joe Brainard and Kevin Young, as well as up-and-coming voices like Rochelle Hurt, named one of the best new poets of 2013.
The title of this collection, which is published by This Land Press, indicates its difference from traditional collections. Indeed, editors Abby Wendle and Scott Gregory created this as a movement to literally bring poetry to the people. How they have done so has taken various forms.
To begin with, Wendle and Gregory’s mission was to remove some of the mystique around poetry and to create a collection that felt approachable, intimate and plainspoken — poetry that would speak to the masses, and perhaps endear readers to rediscover poetry as a genre or explore it for the first time.
“I think when people are confronted by a poem, it feels like there’s this expectation that you have to ‘get it’ — that there’s a right or wrong answer,”
Wendle says. “I think reading a poem should be more like a relationship. It should be about experiencing the poem, not just trying to understand it.”
One manifestation of this was the actual collection in book format. Another was the large endeavor that Wendle herself created and undertook — to bring poetry into random people’s lives.
With a tape recorder, microphone and the poems in hand, she traversed the streets of Tulsa and of greater Oklahoma, and even traveled as far as New York City.
Wendle approached strangers of all ages and all styles, in all of these places, asking them to spontaneously recite one of the poems from the book.
What she found was that there was no one way to read — or respond to — any given poem. There was no “answer.”
“Some protest the poem, others outright refuse to be recorded, but every so often, I found a person who stopped in his/her tracks, read the words on the page and found her own voice in the poem,” she says.
This, more than anything, might be the most powerful effect of poetry. In reading others’ words, whether aloud or silently, we find something we have needed to say about our own lives bubbling to the surface.
Personally I am inclined on this blustery day to take the book in hand and absorb what these Oklahomans have to say about life. I invite you to curl up in your own favorite spot, to absorb, to journey with these poets over the landscapes they describe, but I also challenge you — yes, challenge you — to read a poem (any poem), aloud and discover what your own voice has to say.
“Poetry to the People” also is a podcast. Listen at www.thislandpress.com/p2p, or subscribe to This Land Radio in the iTunes store to hear recordings of people across the state reading these poems aloud.