Poetry and Me

Johns Hopkins Inlet, Alaska

Johns Hopkins Inlet, Alaska

I fell in love with my first poem in elementary school.  I probably read other poems, but the first one that really touched me was one I found in a book.  The book was The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson.  In the book 11-year-old Gilly is a troubled foster child.  She ends up with a woman who won’t give up on her.

At one point, Gilly is asked to read a poem to her elderly, blind neighbor.  The poem is an excerpt from Ode, by William Wordsworth.  The poem is over 200 lines long, but less than 20 were included in the book.  Of course, I didn’t know that because these were pre-internet days.  What I did know was that the poem felt like it spoke to me, reached down inside and touched a special chord.  I read that poem over and over.  It was the first poem I transcribed in a spiral notebook of poems and snippets of text I liked.  I can still recite the excerpt today.

We were taught to analyze poetry in my high school, so I may have developed a love of poetry anyway, but I have to imagine that there was something special about being introduced to it so young, and on my own.  No one told me to like it.  No one directed me to analyze it for a grade.  It was all about me and my relationship with the prose.

I’ve been thinking about this recently, as I write my novel.  In it, I have one of the main characters quote lines of poetry and prose.  She does this maybe a half dozen times.  My critique partner hates it.  His argument is that you shouldn’t need to use someone else’s words to invoke an emotion.

I’m torn.  His argument makes sense, and yet… I remember what it was like to discover Wordsworth as a child, to find that pure love of something that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.  It still would have been a good book without those lines, but with them, for me, it became something akin to magic.

How do you feel about poems, quotes, or song lyrics in books?

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