Poetry is Not Toxic, Does Not Pollute, Does Not Cause Cancer or Weight Gain, But May Be Addictive, May Cause Stress and May Tax the Brain in More Sensitive Users*
*Don’t Consult Your Physician. You Don’t Need To!
Writing and reading poetry is an affliction that may become an addiction for some.
One of the reasons that I started this business is simply that I really enjoy writing the poems that appear here. When I was in high school, I wrote a few songs to play on the guitar. I wasn’t a good guitar player, but I could put a few chords together. And I was definitely not a good singer. My belief was that if I wrote it, I could sing it any way I wanted to! It worked for Bob Dylan.
But, by and large, I was not a good songwriter either. But I suspect that most of those who have written the most popular and famous songs have written as many bad songs as they have written good songs, and of those good songs, maybe only a few get recorded, and even fewer even sell very much.
And since I never recorded any songs, and since I never performed any in public, I didn’t subject anyone to my bad songs, and if any of the songs were any good, well, no one heard the good ones either. I hid in my closet. Safety. For me. For them.
As I got older, I stopped writing songs because I stopped playing the guitar. I didn’t want to subject my wife and daughters to my singing voice! Or my words.
I admit I have always liked to write, and even when writing briefs and arguments and appeals in law cases, I enjoyed that process, and it was satisfying to be able to write a compelling motion and supporting memorandum of law (or brief) that actually won a case. In some ways, it was as satisfying as winning a trial.
And I still liked to write the poems, but only did it very occasionally. It was my “closet” that I generally hid from the world, and I was okay with it.
I never really thought of doing anything with them, especially publishing them! This was partly because it was something that seemed to be not particularly popular, and it seemed to me that it was something that someone who loved to play and watch sports, who played in the sometimes rough world that is law, and who would have enjoyed being a male sex symbol for women (but wasn’t otherwise qualified!), should hide from the world. And so I hid my affliction. And my addiction.
But the fact was that I had to write them.
I couldn’t not write them. It was an addiction. And I had an affliction. And I had to hide it!
But I liked to write things that I could understand, including poems that I could understand. And I wanted to write things that others didn’t have to work too hard to understand. It shouldn’t be a dark secret hidden in hidden metaphors.
Some poems that I read just made no sense to me. And some still don’t.
But then, lots of essays, novels, non-fiction books, or newspaper or magazine articles, or blog entries don’t make sense to me either. Maybe that’s my fault. Maybe it’s the writer’s fault. But there will always be things one person loves and another person hates. That’s life.
Peas and lima beans: Ick! Broccoli and baked beans: Good! To each his own!
Are some people addicted to reading them? Are they afflicted with an addiction?
Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they just don’t know. It’s not like there are self-help books out there, at least that I know of. It’s not the kind of thing discussed in medical or psychiatric or psychology magazines.
It’s not something that kids are taught in school. At least not much. There may be some writing of poems in grade school, a little less in middle school, and even less in high school. And there might even be some reading of them, but I guess most kids don’t even want to go through this unit.
But there are likely a few who like it, but we suspect that those are not popular kids. They might read them in secret, for fear of being bullied. And if they are popular kids, and they like them, they hide that! I hid it, even though I wasn’t particularly popular. I didn’t want to diminish my chances!
But something didn’t make sense to me. TV shows had theme songs: Remember “Petticoat Junction” (“And there’s Uncle Joe, movin’ kind of slow . . .”)? Remember songs in movies? Remember musicals? Remember how you’d listen to the radio? Later, Ipods?
So there were exceptions . . .
When they are in songs, poems are more than okay! Kids liked them, even popular kids!
So it finally dawned on me that most people actually do like poems.
It’s just that they like them when combined with some other art form. Peas alone are not okay. Peas in stew are okay. Peapods in chop suey are okay. (But lima beans are still not okay!)
Music combined with lyrics equals a song. And some of the people who write those songs make enormous amounts of money, especially if they have musical talent and the ability to perform, and a good agent. So people will purchase poetry, if it’s combined with music and performed well (or even not so well).
So, I think most people do like poems. They just don’t realize it. (Steve Jobs and Apple did really well convincing people to buy something that they didn’t know they would like or need.)
Many quotations are lyrical, even if they don’t rhyme. “One small step for man. One giant leap . . .” “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” “Winston tastes good . . .” Ooops. That reminds me: how many commercials have rhyme in them? Why? That makes them memorable, and maybe that makes you more likely to buy that product. Marketers know this.
Is it the music? I will say, probably mostly yes. But it is often the lyrics too. Carole King. Jackson Browne. David Gray. Sometimes it is just a line or two in the refrain that is so catchy that people just love the whole song. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were, of course, great at creating tunes, but their lyrics were often superb too.
Why do people like the lyrics? They like the rhyme. They like the rhythm. They like the way they sound. They like the symmetry. They like the way the words make them feel. They like the way the lyrics make them think. They like the comfort. They like the romance. They like the way that the words touch the heart, or even the brain.
Take away the lyrics and ask yourself how much you’d like the songs if it was just the music. Ask yourself: could these lyrics go in a different tune? Probably not. It would be weird.
If there were no lyrics, wouldn’t life be like riding elevators all the time, and you couldn’t turn off the music? Ouch!
So admit it: You like lyrics, sometimes, or even most times.
You might even like greeting cards! At least you’ll buy some each year.
And sometimes you might buy a greeting card with a poem in it. You might even spend more than a minute or two reading them in the aisle at the grocery store or drug store, and you might even like a few of them, and you are not too embarrassed if someone you know sees you there. Why? “Oh, it’s for someone else” (who likes them). Even some men read a couple, and then quickly make their way to the checkout counter.
So go to the next step. Admit it: you like poems too. (It’s the first step in dealing with this health problem.)
Admit it: You just don’t want to be caught buying books containing them.
I don’t recommend putting them under your coat and taking them to the counter. Just carry it in your arm or hand. Be bold! Stand tall! Some people may even quietly admire your courage!
But here’s another idea: Remember what I said about the greeting cards in the grocery store aisle? If anyone looks at you in a funny or questioning way, just say: “It’s a gift!” There you go! You can do it! You can buy one but you don’t have to say it’s for you! Say: “It’s for someone else!” Say you don’t understand why they like them, but you want to get them a gift, and you know they’ll like this poetry book.
The fact is that that person probably won’t buy it for themselves either, for the same reason you don’t: They don’t want to be caught! It’s like a respected businessman or even a minister being embarrassed about buying the swimsuit issue. He wants it, but just doesn’t want to be seen buying it! He might even get a yearly subscription to SI just so the swimsuit issue will be delivered, thereby avoiding the store, and no one will ever know. Which reminds me: I need to renew!
Addictions are difficult. Afflictions are difficult.
All those people singing along with the radio in their cars fight that addiction every day! All those people watching the Grammy’s year after year have a sickness! And they know it. Sometimes they sing along even when they don’t know the words (because the words can’t be heard over the music or understood because the singer has the microphone in his mouth)! Or the music is turned up so loud in the car that ears complain.
Make them turn off the music and they’ll go through withdrawal! Make them turn off the lyrics? I’ll bet they’ll go through withdrawal then too.
So they are habituated, and likely addicted.
Do they know that they could read the lyrics? Those are poems too. They might like them. Tell them! They can be helped. It’s like methadone, maybe . . . (I don’t know that!)
In many poems, there’s a certain music, a certain lyricality (if you will indulge me), too. Many people on Pinterest and on Twitter and other social media outlets love to post quotations, many of which are lyrical, but sometimes not, and sometimes poetic and sometimes not, and knowing that other people like to read them.
I do. I’ll bet you do too. Sometimes. Often. And sometimes secretly.
And it has taken years of therapy to get to the point where I could admit this!
So, as Eleanor Roosevelt said: “You must do the thing that you are most afraid of doing.” (Or something like that.)
Let your healing begin. Face your addiction. Admit you need help!
And help someone else avoid withdrawal!
Buy someone a poetry book. If you must, you can ship it anonymously, it’s okay.
(So that you know, you can’t buy a book on this site. I haven’t written a book. Buy someone else’s book for someone else. You’ll be doing a good deed—just don’t think of it as feeding someone’s hidden addiction.)
Copyright Daniel Mark Extrom 2014. All rights reserved.