Almost all high school students I know claims they “don’t like poetry.” Or at least they wouldn’t go out of their way to read it.
In English classes, they’ll roll their eyes or impatiently tap the ends of their pencils against the surface of their desks as the teacher discusses the proper technique for poetry analysis. And, for the most part, I don’t blame them. The poems we read in class are limited, and a lot of the time, quite dull.
I don’t mean to say that all of the poems are poorly written or uninteresting. In fact, many of them are beautiful pieces of writing that, in any other circumstance, I might deeply enjoy. But one can only take so many wistful and soft free-verse poems about the emergence of spring, or maybe a man’s journey to self discovery as he finds himself through nature, before they blend into one big monotonous lump. That (combined with the excessive and overly structured analysis that most classes require) makes it really hard for many students to actually enjoy the writing, and interpret it in a way that means something to them personally; a way that makes them feel something deeper than just contempt for all of the writing they’re forced to read and don’t enjoy.
I do think that everyone who reads poetry reads it to feel something. Something sad, something warm, something familiar or strange and exciting and new. A good poem has a way of weaving itself inside of you and lingering there for days; you’ll think of it when you accidentally brush hands with the man at the checkout counter, when the thunder outside keeps you from falling asleep, when you’re making dinner and the spaghetti water boils over the pot and puts out the flame. When you read a good poem, it makes its way into everything you do.
It’s a shame that when poetry has so much power and potential to change and develop its readers both emotionally and intellectually, that so few young people are inclined to read it. I feel blessed to have grown up with parents who loved poetry and encouraged me to develop a strong admiration for it as well. Reading poems and discovering my personal preferences helped me —and continues to help me — shape and nurture my own writing techniques and personal style. Really, all of this is just a big, roundabout way of prefacing my thoughts on one of my very favorite books of poetry, “The Anatomy of Being by Shinji Moon.”
I came across Shinji Moon’s work through her tumblr (now shinji-moon.tumblr.com) sometime last year and I fell in love. Her writing is gentle, yet fierce and strong, and all deeply personal and emotional. Especially impressive is the fact that she’s only 19 years old.
“The Anatomy of Being” is a self-published anthology divided into four sections, beginning with the outer layer — the tangible, the skin — and then moving into the more abstract and indescribable aspects of human existence. Each section begins with a short paragraph introducing what’s to come, describing the continual subtraction of the physical, until the final chapter, where all that is left are the parts of life that cannot be touched, that can only be felt. In one interview last September for NYU, she spoke about the book, saying, “It tunnels from presence to absence, from love to loss ... what I think — what I believe — is that at the end of that tunnel, in the farthest corners of ourselves, there is light, there is hope. That idea has gotten me through a lot of my life, and I wanted to put it into words, in case I could help someone else feel less alone and warmer along the way.”
I relate so much to a lot of what she writes about in the book. She makes simple observations of what it’s like to be alive and the raw feelings that come with living: how it is to love, or not love, the things that you say and wish you didn’t, and the things you don’t and wish you did.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of her writing, though, is how each line can be looked at individually and still be beautiful, still hold a tremendous amount of power and meaning: “How often it is that we turn each other into metaphors,” “We measure catastrophes by how close they hit to home,” “Time curdles everything it touches, doesn’t it?” It’s almost as if each line is a poem in and of itself, and I love that about it.
I said earlier that poetry weaves its way into everything you do, and Shinji Moon’s writing makes me perceive the world differently. Every moment and every conversation — all the kisses and scraped knees and cloudless, still nights — seem more meaningful than they used to. Life seems to have more potential to be beautiful and special and worth savoring, worth writing about.
I think that a lot of the time, that’s what poetry does best, and it’s certainly what “The Anatomy of Being” has done for me.
Katie Huntington is a junior at Oneonta High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk