This passage is taken from the intro of our latest book - Rhymes' Reasons by Mike Aquilina.
ONE DAY A LONGTIME FRIEND invited me out to breakfast. He had something he wanted to talk about,
he said, and he thought maybe I was the person to talk to.
So we sat down at the table, ordered breakfast, and then he told me what was on his mind:
He didn't get poetry, he said. He’d never understood it, and he felt like he was missing something.
He said he had taken the problem to a man we both knew and respected as a reader of literature--Ivy League-trained and fluent in languages ancient and modern. He confessed his problem and was told to go out and buy The Collected Poems of T. S. Eliot.
So he did. He brought home the book, opened it up, and took a look inside.
"The first line I saw was in Sanskrit,” my friend told me, laughing.
He still didn't understand poetry.
To me, that encounter represents exactly what we do wrong with poetry today. Its not that I. S. Eliot is bad. He was a brilliant poet. But his long poem "The Wasteland" isn't where you start if you want to learn to
enjoy poetry, just like James Joyce's Ulysses isn't where you start if you want to learn to enjoy novels. The difference is that everyone knows there are novels that are fun to read: that's why James Patterson is a billion-dollar industry. But somehow we forgot that poetry is pleasurable, too.
A few years ago there was an article in the Guardian called "Read Poetry like a Professor." But why not read poetry like a truck driver? Why not read poetry like a purchasing agent or accountant? Why would we
assume that only professors get poetry?
"It is very much our mission," St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote, "to transform the prose of this life into poetry,
into heroic verse. St. Josemaría said that because he knew what made poetry a more intense experience than prose. To him it was a natural thing to say: of course it you have a choice between prose and poetry, you want to make your life poetry.
I hope you'll make that same decision, and that's why I wrote this book. I have expertise in precisely nothing. I have no titles before my name or letters after it--no special knowledge that enables me to perceive meaning or method better than you.
What I know is that, when I was very young, I read The Far Field by Theodore Roethke and The Love Poems of Kenneth Patchen, and these books showed me new ways of experiencing the world and expressing that
experience. It was as if the words had opened up rooms in my mind that I didn't know were there. Reading
poems made me want to read more poems. Eventually it led me to write them, too. Now it's led me to write about the strange pleasure that poems can give to anyone open to their gift. To paraphrase St. Paul: I would
to God that not only you but all who read me this day might become as I am.
I admit that there are good practical reasons to read poems. W. H. Auden was exaggerating slightly when he said that "poetry makes nothing happen. A priest-friend of mine underwent his pre-ordination formation back in the 1950s, and his seminary required all its students to write fifty lines of blank verse every week. It didn't have to rhyme. It didn't have to be good. But it had to have five stressed syllables per line. The rector believed that these exercises were the best way for a preacher-in-training to learn the power of rhythmic
language. We can all benefit from such lessons. But this is not a book of lessons, and I offer little in the way of practicality.
On the other hand, I won't ask you to look up any- thing in Sanskrit. My hope is that you'll leave this book with a desire to read poems not like a professor (unless you are one), but like yourself, and you'll know the peculiar delight they deliver.