By Richa Gupta:
There is a certain stigma associated with the poetic form of expression. When people think of poetry (according to my personal experience), certain images tend to pop into their minds: a lone wanderer desperately trying to communicate with the world, a recluse ranting about the injustice of his surroundings, a person hunched before her laptop. In my old school, when we’d begin reading a poem in English, I would either hear sighs of exasperation or the deafening silence of indifference. Fictional pieces would take the forefront, while poems would sit in the backseat. Classmates who wrote poetry would be teased; eventually, a lot of young writers were prevented from embracing this form of art.
But I continued writing poetry, submitting to literary magazines, and posting on my poetry blog. And as I’ve delved deeper into this form of expression, I’ve come to appreciate its widespread benefits, not only to established writers, but also to novices and those who are still learning the English language.
Probably the biggest virtue of poetry is its freedom. Learning and studying English can be an intimidating task, thanks to the unyielding grammatical and syntactical rules, as well as the daunting principles of sentence formation and punctuation. What adds to this unbending image is the rigid method in which this language is taught in Indian schools — as an endless series of rules meant to be obeyed. But sometimes, as I’ve learnt, following standard axioms can be a hindrance to a student’s creativity. After all, scores of people have broken these rules and have left their marks on the history of literature. And when it comes to challenging the rules of English grammar, there is no better form that does so than the poetic one.
In an educational scenario that overplays the importance of strict rules, poetry invariably becomes an underrepresented subject taught in the education system. However, introducing the wonders of poetry into a classroom can benefit students in a myriad of ways. By incorporating the many poetic devices, such as metaphors, alliterations and onomatopoeias, into their writings, students can find an effective portal to express the thoughts that are not easily expressed in essays or articles. When I was in Class 1, I was naturally introverted. On top of that, I wasn’t well-versed in the nuances of the English language. However, one of my school teachers turned that around by encouraging me to write poems. My poems were short, ridden with errors, but still readable. I had just moved to India at the time, and my words described how different the people were in Bengaluru, and how strange my surroundings seemed. Even for a six-year-old, the quality of my poetry was exceedingly poor but it still helped me grow out of my shyness. Since I wasn’t burdened by the rules of grammar and syntax, I could actually put my thoughts across,
and tell the world how I really felt. It gave me an inexplicable feeling of power, and told me that everything was in my hands, quite literally. And I continue to use that power even now.
Furthermore, apart from improving a student’s linguistic skills, perusing poetry can also be very enlightening— for it gains students, new insights into the viewpoints of people who lived in different ages, broadens their imagination, and sparks their creative skills. In addition, it introduces them to new styles and forms of writing, whether they are studying the many diverse works of Shakespearian sonnets, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or “The Song of the Jellicles”. Each piece carries with it its own taste, colour and voice, and appreciating this fact widens students’ empathetic tolerance and opinions regarding different people, and helps make them more informed and culturally aware citizens.
I noticed this when reading the winning poems of the 2015 Human Rights Poetry Award, organised by the Universal Human Rights Student Network (UHRSN). The competition aimed to raise awareness about the plight of refugees in Europe, and how they are denied their fundamental rights as humans. As an Indian teenager who has never lived in Europe, I would be completely unable to actually empathise with refugees in Europe. Although I’ve read news articles and watched videos, they only provide me with a statistical indication of what is really happening. So, I eagerly waited for the winning poems to be posted on the website — and was rewarded when they were. The poignant voices of people who had been refugees, whose family members had been refugees, and social activists hoping to mitigate this issue rang out, loud and powerful. Reading about the young Aylan Kurdi on online newspapers let me know about the issue; but reading a poem about him, and about how fortunate most of us are, truly brought the predicament of the refugees to light. The winners of the poetry award were of different nationalities and spanned over a vast range of ages — which shows the extent to which poetry helps people across the globe connect on a deeper, emotional level. There was one poem that touched me in particular: “For Aylan“, by Laura Taylor. It started off like this:
“I just wanted you to know
your lovely bones have not been wasted […]”
Honestly, I find it incredible that a few stanzas can help people empathise and learn about other cultures. So, when it comes down to it, poetry is an essential component of education in a world that is growing more diverse by the day. It’s a way of forging bonds not only with others, but also with yourself. It screams of liberation, and lets people chart their own paths. So what if you’re not well-versed in the English language? You can always get your point across — and poetry will help you there; it will imbue colour and vibrancy into your words, and even add a certain musicality to your message. But most importantly, It can help an adult understand a child (as in my case), or a wealthy person stand in the shoes of a poor person. So, poetry doesn’t only have to be freedom from the rules that stalk any language, it can also be freedom from the intolerance and lack of empathy that shadows society.