Do you read poetry?

Lubna Abdel-Aziz , Tuesday 22 Nov 2022

The chuckles and chortles are almost audible.

Robert Frost


“With a still threatening pandemic, a global economic disaster, a catastrophic war raging and you are talking about poetry?”

“We do enough reading as it is; we read Google, Facebook, Wikipedia and all its surrogates, we have little time to even read the newspapers, for goodness sake.”

All so true. Book sales are dropping in all countries. The average person spends less than seven minutes on reading news, information, or about entertainment. We are distracted by many diversions that were not awarded to previous generations.

Why then are more books being published today than at any other period in history?

The answers may be multiple and diverse, still over 400,000 books are published everyday— an incredible figure, to say the least.

China released 328,367 books in 2010 of which 328, 259 were new titles, which increased to 330 in 2015.

The US produces 2,700 new titles for release each day. This is excluding new prints and others.

The Publishing Industry in the UK alone is worth $6.2 billion dollars, a four per cent growth in 2022.

In 2019 a total of 1,668,333 million books were published globally.

Somehow, somewhere, someone must be reading books and that is reason for rejoicing.

What is even better news is that poetry reading is on the rise.

Scoff all you want, but poetry reading is experiencing a new golden age, with young people 18-24 years old leading the charge.

According to the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) of the US, nearly 12 per cent of adults read poetry in 2017, which is over 28 million people — what a bumper in poetry book sales.

Poetry reading is up and this is the exact time for it. It is the art form that people turn to for comfort and courage.

 Despite the attitude shared by many that it is strange to read poetry, but when you wish to soothe the soul, rest the mind and heal the heart that you should read poetry.

It allows us to become better people, more in touch with our humanity.

Poetry may be daunting at first, but once you are absorbed in a world where nothing is as it seems, you will be forever changed. It evokes a wide range of emotions, thoughts and visuals, transcending the experience to pure bliss.

Robert Frost, an American poet, said: “Poetry is when emotion has found its thought and thought has found its words. A poem begins with delight and ends with wisdom.”

It was wisdom that for the first time in its history the UN directed UNESCO to establish a World Poetry Day for the most refined form of language. The day is 21 March, founded in 1999, on its 30th General Conference in Paris. Its purpose was supporting poetic expression.

Americans chose their own National Poetry Day, 1 October, in 1994. The theme for 2022 was the environment, of course.

April is National Poetry Month, so give in.

Periods of decay and destruction are often followed by a renaissance of fresh invention in thought and art. Never underestimate the power of poetry.

“If you have ever loved —you’ve lived poetry. If you have had your heart broken, you have felt poetry. If you have gazed at the stars, you have admired poetry. If you have heard rain, you have heard poetry.”

Poetry is one of the most ancient art forms. It has always existed, 5,000 years and more.

It is the highest form of literature from Homer to Kipling, dominant over the novel, drama, short story, etc. It shows the different shades of man. It expresses different feelings — friendship, love, adventure, courage, faith, death — the whole spectrum of human emotion. That is why poetry should be read with your heart.

More expressive than prose, it appeals in any language even if you do not know the language. Our emotions are set free, we become less rigid, with no ethical, moral, or intellectual barriers.

We read poetry to be enlightened, to be overjoyed, to explore something new, exciting, and mystical.

What about the writers of poetry? On the average, they have extremely high IQs. Shakespeare remains on top of the list as the greatest poet of all time, yet strangely enough English is not the best language for poetry. Japanese and Italian surpass it.

Arabic is by general consensus the richest and most lyrical language for poetry, although Persia has the highest number of poems written. The name of Omar Khayam says it all.

Pais de Poetas or “land of the poets” is, surprisingly enough, Chile for its highly valued poetry tradition. It has two Nobel Laureates Pablo Neruda, 1971 and Gabriela Mistral, 1945.

There is a crop of contemporary poets covering the realm of this great art form, Warsan Shire, Joyce Carol Oates, Seamus Heaney, Ocean Vuong, Margaret Atwood, among others.

At last we come to the most beloved poems that have stood the test of time: “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe (1845), “And Still I live” by Maya Angelou (1978), “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1818), “The Wasteland” by T S Elliot (1922), and “Because I could not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson (written in 1863 and published posthumously in 1890).

We beg to differ.

 Shakespeare, unquestionably, is the most read poet in the world. You can never tire of him.

On 21 October poetry lovers celebrated the 100th anniversary of the infinitely beloved poem by America’s Robert Frost “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (1923).

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”

Robert Frost (1885-1963)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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