I read poetry, but not on a regular basis. Last year, I wandered over to a book fair in a nearby suburb and found myself having an extended conversation with Walter Bargen, the state of Missouri's poet laureate. He was standing at his booth, trying not to look occupied, and I walked up and introduced myself. (If nothing else, I thought, I'd make a good prop for the booth.) (I was right.)
Bargen was delightful to talk with -- and eminently approachable. And when I told him I had actually read a book of his poems, he got downright voluble. I bought two more of his books; he signed both and did a special drawing/autograph in one called Feast. It was the coolest thing. Our conversation attracted others, and by the time I left, his booth traffic had ballooned from one to quite a few.
I've read a lot of poetry over the years -- Frost, Dickenson, the English Romantics, Rupert Brooke, Longellow, Whitman, Eliot, Yeats, Wallace Stevens -- all the standards. But I don't really visit the web to find poetry. Until the last month or so.
I'm not sure if I found poetry or it found me. I was looking at a site called The High Calling Blogs, and discovered that it had a Friday feature called Random Acts of Poetry -- poems on a stated topic with links to others also writing on the featured topic. Well, you know the web. Before long, I was looking all over the place at poetry that was really good stuff. I found poems by L.L. Barkat, Jim Schmotzer, Marcus Goodyear and many others -- and it was poetry I connected to on several levels.
We live in a time that's not exactly conducive to the reading of poetry. And yet, in a way, we live in a time when we desperately need to be reading poetry.
A recent post in The Evangelical Outpost by a writer and thinker named Hayden Butler cited three reasons for reading poetry: it breaks us out of our linguistic ruts; it can make us speak more precisely; and it shows we can create beauty in our speech. None of these is necessarily critical for political sound bites or 140-character microblogging, but they are vitally important for expanding our hearts and nurturing our souls.