There’s no doubt that 18th and 19th century poetry is vastly different from that being published these days. Then it was all about how deep the poetry was and the hidden meanings behind “Annabel Lee” and Shakespearean sonnets. Today, the poems we are seeing have transformed from elegant literary styles to something only described as straightforward and often right to the point. There’s hardly room to interpret a lot of the poetry we see these days.
Whenever reading poetry books, I find that each author has a distinctive style, but the reviews claim it is basic Pinterest poetry, which is boring and has no meaning. Poetry comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s never a one type fits all situation. Poetry is extremely personal and often carries from the author’s personal experience, so saying that one author’s work has no meaning seems ignorant of that particular author’s style. Whether a poem has 20 words or 1,000, whether the meaning is hidden or clear and whether or not you feel something while reading it does not mean it’s not poetry. A piece may not be poetry to you but to someone else it very well might be. Every poem has its weight and value, I have read poems that don’t make me feel anything and I have read poems that have made me burst into tears.
Humans don’t like things they cannot comprehend or relate to and poetry is one of those things. Since poetry is so personal it’s hard to conceptualize the exact meaning and what a reader is meant to feel. People want to say, “I know exactly how this author feels!" But they might not know, because experiences vary. I could write about a heartbreak I went through and many people could relate to that, but not everyone will. Not everyone can and will understand every author's writing style, and that’s fine. It’s something to expect.
The poetry we are seeing these days is so different mainly because language has evolved over time. We no longer use words such as “Art thou” and we no longer need to translate the meaning behind poetry as it’s plainly written. This is not to say that it’s a bad thing to write this way, but it’s the way we are taught in school. If you have taken an English class that read a Shakespeare play, you would know that they are not the easiest to read and we often miss the meaning when trying to translate it. This mentality has us thinking it’s not good because we did not quite understand it. Language will always continue to change and evolve and so will poetry. We all strive to understand the most we can, and poetry is no exception.
It’s a double-edged sword when you’ve got people saying “this poetry is too simple” but also “this is so hard to read, why can’t they just say what they mean?”. As a poet sits down to write a poem it’s not always our first thought for anyone to understand it but ourselves. Sometimes poetry is used as therapy for people and this can be why poetry will not translate to everyone. Sometimes poets write for themselves and not for others. It’s difficult to put yourself in their shoes if it was not meant to ever be read in the same way it was written.
Poetry is not for everyone, that much is clear, but when reading poetry, it’s a good idea to remember that all poems have meaning. It’s true that there is beauty in hidden meanings and why Robert Frost says “two roads diverged in a yellow wood”. But there is also beauty in simple poetry. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, and with poetry that’s simply always been the case. It’s important to remember that some authors write more simply and straightforward, as others write with imagery and literary devices that some don’t consider when putting pen to paper. It’s simply a matter of style, experience, and how an author learns to write. There’s beauty in knowing that poetry comes in so many shapes and sizes, because would it not be boring if all poetry was exactly the same? Yes, one might say “well all poetry these days sounds the same”, but it takes a good eye to know that’s not true. Knowing that every person is different while acknowledging they went through something that made them feel inspired in a specific moment is beautiful. That’s what poetry is. Feelings. Love. Anger. Hope. Sadness. Joy.