When I was asked to write an article to coincide with National Poetry Day, I was more than a little alarmed. I didn't like poetry. I didn't understand it. I didn't feel equipped to talk about it.
In the days that passed, I dwelled on what to write. I considered making this a factual piece on the form's commercial viability, or to assign the article to someone else altogether. But when looking through some old files I remembered, I didn't always hate poetry.
In my pre-teen years, I wrote masses of poetry. I wrote it regularly. I wrote it passionately. I would make them into little songs, composing music for each one in my head that sounded like an embarrassing primary school assembly song. I submitted it to competitions. I never won anything or got good grades for them, but it didn't matter; it was fun.
These poems were about the most simple and ridiculous things: teamwork, getting ready for bed, my dislike of certain fruits, seasons that felt emotions, and comparing the concept of fear to a Pritt-Stick. The last poem I wrote was during my mid-teens. It was about stepping on a leaf and its slowly crumpling spine reflecting the cruel weight of the world. It had a title so long and nonsensical it would put Brendon Urie to shame.
The poor quality of this teenage-emo-angst poetry aside, I genuinely loved writing it. There were no rules to say what poetry could or could not be.
Then I learnt about sonnets.
When school started teaching us Shakespeare, I decided that what I did wasn't real poetry anymore. I never actually hated studying the great writer's works - I actually thought they were pretty cool, but when our teacher told us we had to write a poem in iambic pentameter, I just couldn't do it.
Poetry had suddenly become square-shaped; fourteen lines - three quatrains and a couplet. It was a box I couldn't get into. Where this art form had previously felt limitless and capable of looking like anything, it now had to work on multiple levels. It had to be clever. My poetry didn't feel clever.
Being taught poems did give me a new appreciation for them. But now poems were also things to be analysed. They were either masterpieces worthy of study, or something to be cast aside and ignored.
When I sat down to write this article, I asked myself, 'what even is poetry?' I couldn't find an answer that satisfied me. There are poems that don't rhyme and poems that look like transcripts or prose and poems that can't be written down because they consist of only gurgling sounds (search Jaap Blonk on YouTube and you’ll know what I mean). At different points in my life I was inclined to say that none of that was real poetry. If I couldn't write a straightforward essay on it or even understand what it was trying to say, what was the point?
But now I’m starting to remember that the point of poetry is that there are no rules. My younger self wouldn’t have questioned the quality of a poem based on arbitrary notions of what I thought the form ought to be. Too many comparative essays made me compare my own work to things it could never match up to, because poetry is never one thing.
Writing poems was freeing and scary. Sometimes the things I wrote didn't make sense. Normally it would completely contradict itself by the end. I'd get below-average grades for them and they never get noticed like my prose writing did. But for me, I don't think there needed to be a point behind the gibberish I was writing. It was never something I did because I saw a future in it. I wrote it because I liked it, and that was that.
Maybe there is a right and wrong way to do poetry. Perhaps I never actually understood what poetry is at all. But what poetry definitely isn't, is a singular, concrete thing. Like the mind of a child, it's limitless.