As a professional writer I often get invited to speak at lectures or in classrooms. These speaking engagements are usually in college because, let’s face it, I’m not amazing with children. They do not want to hear me babble on about the canonical differences of Elizabeth Gaskell and Jane Austen. When I try and convince them that Robert Frost is not the same man as Jack Frost I’m usually met with shin kicks and cries of anger. I have caused many a temper tantrum in my day. Last month I was once again invited to speak at a junior high. This is even worse than elementary school. Against my better judgment I accepted the invitation and prepared a few talking points. I knew well enough that the kids weren’t really interested in what I had to say and I wasn’t honestly all that interested in looking out over a sea of bored faces for an hour.
I began the talk about poetry. I’m not a poet, per say. I write short stories as my main expertise. I’ve had poems published throughout my career but my love belongs to shorter pieces. So I talked about all the great poets I loved. Lord Byron, Frost, Yeats, Browning, and even delved into a little Burns. A few kids had heard of the names but didn’t seem all that interested in continuing with the topic. By the end of the lecture I decided I would have a final effort in connecting and I opened the floor for conversation. I’m glad I did.
At first the questions were about my career. What did I study in college, how did I get ideas, and people actually paid me to write? After I answered a slew of these questions the audience seemed to pick up a little. They asked about different kinds of poems and I explained iambic pentameter. Eventually their questions got a little more personal. A girl asked me if she could show me her poem book after the lecture. A guy asked if he could write poems about hunting. They all seemed interested in what actually made a poem.
The answer is whatever you want. You don’t need to follow the classical rules of poetry. Young people should indulge in poetry about anything they love. If they want to write a poem about hamburgers, fine. What about unicorn mating dances? If it floats your boat, yes. Maybe poets aren’t exactly the highest paid individuals in the land. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy writing poetry and that is the perfect reason to foster poetry in young adults. It gives them a tool to express emotions…even if those emotions are really, really weird.