poetry
Keats, Plath and Bishop might have a place outside the classroom for the busy college student. (Illustration by Ashawna Linyard, Georgia State University)

5 Reasons Why You Should Habitually Read Poetry in College

If you find yourself stressed, running from one thing to the next, you might need a new strategy. This reading habit can help bring intentionality to chaotic routines.

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poetry

If you find yourself stressed, running from one thing to the next, you might need a new strategy. This reading habit can help bring intentionality to chaotic routines.

The college routine is famously hectic. Amidst lectures, term papers, exams and part-time jobs, it’s difficult to schedule time for sleep, much less poetry. As a result, your morning routine probably involves stumbling out of bed at the last second and standing half-asleep in front of a coffee pot.

Then, students rush to class, to the library and to the end of the semester where a new routine will demand attention. If you savor intentionality, and want to insert a deliberate, meditative activity into your morning, poetry is a great place to start. As you’ll soon discover, habitually reading poetry can transform a person’s mind in a multitude of ways.

1. Poetry, if read well, can hone your concentration

When immersed in a poem, readers enter a state of mind truly scarce in a busy student’s life. Already, competing responsibilities tug on the individual attention span. Add technology, advertising or even just stress into the mix, and it becomes difficult to devote sustained attention to any activity.

With time, habitual poetry reading can increase your concentration abilities. A vivid poem offers readers engrossment and the opportunity to lose track of time in a pleasant activity. Elizabeth Bishop calls this absorption “self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.”

It doesn’t involve painfully trying to redirect one’s mind to the task at hand, or counting down the minutes on a slow-moving clock. Rather, when lost in an evocative set of words, time suddenly becomes irrelevant. The mind finds relief from fragmented thoughts, even if only for a moment.

2. Your writing ability will be enhanced

Of course, you can’t ignore an upcoming term paper forever. With a huge chunk of your grade at stake, the contents of this assignment must be impressive. Luckily, habitual poetry reading can improve the quality of your writing.

The benefits of reading poetry on your writing manifest themselves in two areas. First, poems naturally increase one’s understanding of rhyme and rhythm. After time spent enjoying a graceful flow of words, the quality will surface within your own prose.

In addition, poems can build a broader understanding of a word’s nuances. Common words contain various shades of meaning and thoughtful poetry often explores these intricacies. For example, in “Those Winter Sundays” Robert Hayden describes a side of love that often remains unarticulated. Every Sunday, the narrator’s father rose early to start a fire. After warming the rooms in their cold house, the man silently polishes his son’s good shoes.

In this poem, the word “love” takes on an unfamiliar expression. The poet writes, “What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” Love, as expressed by the narrator’s father, is silent and unassuming action. The poem undermines a loud, garish idea of love with something unconventional. On the whole, poems can point out the nuances within common words to enrich a reader’s use and understanding of the subject.

3. It’s a gateway into connection

Generally, poems deal with the tiny elements of an individual’s experiences. Authors capture snippets of feelings and thoughts placing them on display within their paper-bound creations. Sentience, and its endless intricacies, exists as the quiet focal point of many poems.

Despite the poet’s existence as an individual, this concentration on perception resonates with readers across the world. Personal observations on love, grief or nature somehow strike a chord with diverse audiences. As John Keats once noted, poetry should “strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.”

At its best, poetry generates a connection with the musings of another human being. In the hustle and bustle of college life, brief moments of genuine connection are scarce but deeply appreciated.

4. It provides the opportunity for introspection.

For college students, it often seems as though decisions lurk around every corner. Potential majors, minors and internships vie for attention and each one often seems appealing. Without a clear understanding of your priorities, it’s easy to feel daunted by the wide array of choices. In these overwhelming situations, self-analysis becomes absolutely essential. Habitual poetry reading provides an opportunity for this introspection.

Meditative poem reading requires one to slow down, take a deep breath and watch as the author’s ideas steadily unfold. Over time, a reader’s own thoughts follow the same course. The self-reflection unfolds gradually, mimicking the steady pace of the beloved lines. Today, even therapists use poetry to aid clients in self-exploration. The practice exists in clinics, classrooms and numerous communities, so why not a college campus?

5. Poetry can bestow comfort in confusing times

Amidst confusion, readers can take heart in the presence of similar feelings within a poet’s mind. For example, Sylvia Plath articulates the fears of many college students in an extended description of a fig tree. A character imagines beautiful potential lives blossoming before her eyes in the shape of figs, but can’t latch onto just one of the options.

Eventually, readers watch as she metaphorically starves to death, “just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.” Plath concludes her relatable dilemma with the statement: “I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Elsewhere, a poet describes trading stress for a few moments of stillness — an idea plenty of students can certainly support. In “Today” Mary Oliver recounts, “letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.” After all, the natural world moves on completely indifferent to her quiet holiday.

Of course, a college student’s life is full of obligations rife with future importance. If your schedule simply won’t accommodate extended reading time, consider an online approach. There are hundreds of ways to read poems online and the easy to access format makes it easy to incorporate the subject into your routine.

“Morning Poetry,” a program associated with “The Paris Review,” sends a new poem to subscribers’ emails once a day. For an audible approach, the YouTube channel “Ours Poetica” features a new poem every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, read by people who adore the medium. With a little creativity, anyone can add some sorely needed intentionality to a hectic routine.

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