In an interview with CUNY TV, Irish poet Paul Muldoon advanced his theory for why so many people, particularly students, struggle to understand and enjoy poetry. According to Muldoon, it has to do with the way that poetry is taught in schools: in high school, he says, students are given the impression that they will never be able to understand poetry without a teacher or other sort of “expert” there to tell them what they’re reading.
Muldoon makes a good point: most schools’ ways of teaching–not just poetry, but all subjects– cause students to doubt or neglect their own abilities. Because they, from the time they were waist-high, were spoon-fed their lessons, they become convinced that they cannot accomplish anything academic without involving a teacher. I believe college professors call this “freshman syndrome.” But this, I think, is only part of the reason why students struggle with poetry.
Like Mr. Muldoon, I believe the root of the problem is in how poetry is taught: in most schools, where one curriculum is expected to accommodate hundreds of unique students, the idea of “one-size-fits-all” rules the day. All children are introduced to poetry the same way and through the same works. The problem is that poetry, whether in reading it or writing it, is one of the most individual experiences in the world. Because it deals with thoughts and emotions in a way that no other sort of writing does, no two people will react the same way to the same piece of poetry, nor will two people react the same way to the same method of teaching poetry. For me, I disliked poetry intensely when I was taught from texts like “Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth and “Ars Poetica” by Archibald MacLeish. However, when I was allowed to read Lord Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib” and John Milton’s Sonnet 23, I began to take a liking to poetry. As my fellow blogger Fariba once wrote, “I am convinced that people who say they don’t like poetry have not yet found the right poem. When they do find the right one (notice that I didn’t say ‘if’) they will know.” I agree.