Have we been taught poetry all wrong? PBS News Hour on Matthew Zapruder's Why Poetry

“I have a confession to make: I don’t really understand poetry.”

So goes the opening line of poet Matthew Zapruder’s forthcoming book “Why Poetry,” which looks at why a lot of people feel alienated by poetry (this line is one he’s heard countless times before) and what can be done to remedy that.

The book is part personal, part explanatory and part polemic, saying: Here’s my experience with poetry, here’s how it works, and here’s why we desperately need it.  It is the last part that is perhaps most interesting in an age of information overload. Zapruder argues poetry is a necessity, because the knowledge we gain from it can be deeper and more human than from other texts.

“It’s an intuitive, associative understanding that you can get from poems, which can really open a person up and make them aware of other human beings, of themselves, and of the natural world,” said Zapruder, who has published four collections of poetry and edited the poetry page of the New York Times Magazine. “It does that in a way that can’t be done by any other form of writing.”

But this intuitive, associative power, he says, can be lost on people because of the way poetry is taught. He argues that we are too often asked to find the “hidden meanings” in poems, as if a poem is a riddle — telling you something simple, but in the most complicated way possible, as if the poet is being deliberately opaque. Good poetry actually does the opposite, says Zapruder; “it’s something elusive and complex, said in the simplest way possible.” (Though writing about the complexities of life is not always very simple.)


Read More and hear Zapruder read a poem at PBS News Hour

Date of Mention: 
Monday, June 19, 2017