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Myth: Real poetry is deep and complex

Myth: Real poetry is deep and complex

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob

Myth busters

Legal language is not easily associated with poetry. In days gone by, however, this was the way in which laws were announced, often presented rhythmically or by singing. “Knowledge had to be spread orally,” says Literature Researcher Annette de Bruijn. “There were specific formulaic rules that had to be met. These made it easier to remember.”

Law wasn't the only area in which people came in contact with poetry, on the streets too, in songs and stories that people told to each other. Poetry, in short, was everywhere and for everyone. And that is still the case today, says De Bruijn. “There are poetry slams, you can see it on the walls, on YouTube – there are various poetry channels, in rap and song lyrics, in interactive apps, there is even QR code poetry. The fact that these populars are being acknowledged again, appeared recently when Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature.” Still, many people feel real poetry can only be found in a book, that it must consist of complex texts that not everyone can understand. “I focus mainly on children's poetry in my research and almost every article is about the fear of poetry.”

This idea, according to De Bruijn, can be traced back in particular to social and literary developments that occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Fortunately, as a result of technological developments books became cheaper and because of better education more people could read and write. “There were newspapers and novels, why would you need poetry? A new raison d’être was sought. In the Romantic Movement, it was used as the way to express one’s deepest personal emotions, in contrast to the realistic novel. Modernism brought another change and poems became more abstract, more complex and alienating.” In the appreciation of poetry, the autonomous text came about - ‘the words on the page’ – took a central place. Close reading – carefully studying and analysing a poem – was required, people thought. “Which forms, which techniques and style figures characterize the language of the poem? As a result, complexity was valued even more, otherwise it was not worth spending so much time on it.”

De Bruijn feels that looking at poetry in this way is outdated. “Also, it is just one perspective, one method. You can look at poetry in many different ways. But in secondary schools – and also in primary schools where they do something about poetry – it is usually just taught only in this way. Toddlers spontaneously starting to stamp their feet to a rhythmic poem, are just about allowed, but from group 4 onwards, children are told that they have to listen attentively. They are given the idea that poetry can only be read from a book, quietly in a corner, while the experience, the emotion and the rhythm are all very important.”

Another misconception is that good poetry should have a difficult subject. “Not too literal, not too obvious and without humour. But poetry often arises from daily life and can be very funny. People are almost shocked by that: I am laughing at a poem, that shouldn’t be done, should it? I personally love nonsense poetry, which often has no meaning at all, consisting of made-up words and often very funny – Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll is the best-known example.”

De Bruijn believes that being more open for other ideas on poetry, for other perspectives, would help fight the ‘fear of poetry’. “Allow children to discover how diverse poetic forms and positions can be, both for the maker and the receiver. Don't go searching for an all-embracing definition of good poetry, because it doesn't exist.”

Mythbusters is a series in which academics shoot down popular myths on complex topics



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