Broadening Your Horizons
You’d be surprised what it can do for you.
By Bri Griffith, Carlow University
You’re a college student.
You’re learning how to analyze data, critically think and problem solve, not to mention discovering creative ways to use a microwave. Your comfort zone dissipates—classes enrich your experience by opening your mind and exposing you to opposing perspectives. When opportunities arise to explore a major other than your own, you know it’s in your best interest to take advantage of them.
I attend a liberal arts institution, where entering unfamiliar territory and grappling with new, complex subject matter is not only encouraged, but required. I had my first poetry class of the semester last week, and at least six students dropped after realizing they’d need to read their poems to the class using a microphone. Were they scared? Hell yeah. Did they give the class a chance? Hell no.
Poetry is intricate and experimental—even if you’re studying biology, medicine or political science, you can benefit from taking a poetry class. Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice is top notch, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
With that in mind, here’s five reasons why non-poetry students should take a chance and write poetry.
1. Befriend Rejection
As a poet, rejection and I know each other very well. Being told no is part of the process, but truthfully I wasn’t always so accepting. No one likes to hear they’re not doing well, but if you’re unaware of your mistakes (as a writer and person in general), you can’t improve your work.
Poetry classes will introduce you to people who are more than willing to give you honest and helpful feedback. In addition to rejection, you may find yourself in situations in which people read and critique your work, but offer their words to you in an unflattering manner. A few months ago, a magazine called my poems “gross,” and violent.” I didn’t flinch or second-guess myself because poetry classes continue to prepare me for (at times) heartbreaking rejection emails.
Whether you’re writing poetry, studying business management or working as an accountant, you’ll have to handle criticism in your everyday life. Poetry classes will force you to participate in workshops—you’ll learn to be okay with not everyone liking or understanding what you do, which isn’t easy.
2. Find Your Voice
I took a class last semester, “Poetry: Finding Your Voice.” I learned quickly: Reading your poetry aloud is like stripping naked in a room full of people you don’t yet know. Reciting a poem will build your confidence—your shell will crumble as you allow yourself to feel vulnerable.
You grow most when you’re uncomfortable, attempting to unveil parts of yourself you didn’t know existed.
You’ll read, write and hear poetry differently upon standing up and speaking it into the world, giving a piece of your own new life. Reading poetry may not seem relevant for anyone not studying creative writing, but if you take a class you’ll find each poem is an emotional adventure of its own. Your voice will add a unique quality to the piece, one that only belongs to you.
3. An Eye for Detail
When reading any poem, you should always assume everything about the piece was done on purpose. If a poet’s decided to write a poem and not use capitalization or punctuation, you may ask yourself, “Why?” Poetry is carefully crafted, and for any detail-oriented person, you’ll have to read over a single poem multiple times to avoid letting any tiny details slip through the cracks.
Every space, line or stanza break and simile, etc. has meaning. Because poets pay very close attention to everything a poem has to offer, regardless of your individual career path, a poetry class will strengthen your reading skills. The more you read over course material for other classes, the better you’ll understand what each article or textbook chapter is about, which is always good for pop quizzes, exams and homework assignments.
4. Step Outside Yourself
Poetry will take you somewhere else. When you read a book, you essentially escape yourself and enter a written world. For example, the writer may establish a sense of place within their poem—maybe Los Angeles, California, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or a place you’ve never before been. If the writer paints a vivid picture with their words, you get to be there too, even if only through reading a poem.
Also, poetry isn’t autobiographical, and unless you choose to write about your life, you can become another person while writing. Embellish the truth if you want—you can do that in a poem. You can write about anything you want without limits.
5. You’re Interesting
One of my best friends took a poetry class last year. As a senior biology student, she spent the majority of her time applying to medical schools across the country and working in our university’s autopsy lab. When she wrote poems, she incorporated her knowledge of the body into her work. Her poem, “Skinny Girl,” was published in the “Pittsburgh City Paper.” She didn’t know she liked poetry until she took a class, but she ended up earning herself a cool nickname: “The Poet Doctor.” Her science-related courses provided her with interesting writing material—no one else in the class was utilizing medical terms, or writing about corpses, and the specificity of her work allowed her to stand out.
I know not everyone who takes a poetry class will want to take another one, but here’s an important reminder: You don’t have to be writing award-winning, life altering poetry in order to enjoy it. You can’t know what you love if you let fear talk you out of trying new things. Maybe you’ll want to declare a minor, or perhaps you’ll never want to read another poem aloud ever again (fair enough), but the least you can do is give poetry a chance.
I encourage any and all students to take a poetry class, especially the ones who are convinced it’s not for them, because you may not realize how much poetry can help you grow, and provide you with valuable skills.