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Learning to Love Poetry

By Zoe Titus

Edited by Emma Davis

Poetry has always been my favorite writing medium. Spinning language to its full potential, poetry allows the human condition to flow from the tongue in timeless rhythm. But for some students, this type of literature is one of the hardest to decipher. Today, I will teach you how to read poetry and feel its effects just as the poet intended.

Step One

Don’t read it just yet! Read only the title of the poem and soak it in. “Repetition” is the poem we will be reading, written by Phil Kaye. You have to figure out why the poet chose that title. In poetry, every word is carefully picked and placed to make you feel the most emotion in the least amount of words. What types of things does repetition do and how does it make you feel? Repetition could mean something is monotonous or that it sounds choppy, something tedious or without passion. It could also highlight something important or place emphasis on something. Repetition can make you feel anxious or bored, inspired or organized. So, with these in mind, let’s move on to the next step.

Step Two

Read the poem, but place stress on the words that add the most meaning to the line. Which word packs the best punch to you? As an example, for the line “If you repeat something over and over again it loses its meaning,” I would put more emphasis on the word “loses” because we already know that the poem is about repetition, so “loses” is explaining what Phil Kaye thinks repetition does. It makes words not only become boring, but become completely devoid of meaning. Thus, in my opinion, lose is the most important and powerful word in this line. Now, read the following and play with adding stress, changing meaning, and reading in different styles (formal, casual, with rhythm). Add your own twist to it and change words you don’t know into words you do!

“My mother taught me this trick

If you repeat something over and over again it loses its meaning

For example:

Homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework

See, nothing

Our existence, she said, is the same way.

You watch the sun set too often, it just becomes 6 PM

You make the same mistake over and over; you’ll stop calling it a mistake

If you just

wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up,

one day you’ll forget why

Nothing is forever, she said

My parents left each other when I was 7 years old

Before their last argument they sent me off to the neighbor’s house,

like some astronaut jettisoned from the shuttle.

When I came back there was no gravity in our home, beds floating

I imagined it as an accident, that when I left

They whispered to each other “I love you” so many times over

that they forgot what it meant

Family, family, family, family, family, family

My mother taught me this trick

If you repeat something over and over again it loses its meaning

This became my favorite game

It made the sting of words evaporate.

Separation, separation, separation;

see, nothing

Apart, apart, apart;

see, nothing

I am an injured handyman now

I work with words all day

Shut up, I know the irony!

When I was young, I was taught that the trick to dominating language

was breaking it down

Convincing it that it was worthless

I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you;

See, nothing

Soon after my parents’ divorce, I developed a stutter

Fate is a cruel and efficient tutor

There is no escape in stutter

You feel the meaning of every word drag itself up your throat


Stutter is a cage made of mirrors

Every “Are you ok?”

Every “What’d you say?”

Every “Come on kid, spit it out”

Is a glaring reflection you cannot escape

Every terrible moment skips upon its own announcement

Over and over until it just hangs there,

floating in the middle of the room

Mom, Dad,

I am not wasteful with my words anymore.

Even now after hundreds of hours of practicing away my stutter,

I still feel the claw of meaning in the bottom of my throat.

I have heard that even in space;

You can hear the scratching of a

I-I-I-I love you.”

Intense, right? If you don’t think it was that intense, don’t worry, you just haven’t felt the poem yet. We’ll get there.

Step Three

Pick your favorite line and read it with power. Say it aloud if you can. And find the depth without analyzing, but by feeling the actual language. Once you have determined how you interpret the stress and rhythm, let’s listen to how the poet interpreted the poem (if your poem doesn’t have a video reference, just go with how you read it). Now, the way the poet interprets the poem is not the “correct” way nor the “best” way. Poetry is art, it’s meant to be twisted to fit the reader. The whole point of a poem is to create a common connection over a piece. The empathy poetry cultivates doesn't require complete understanding; poetry - the abstraction of emotion - is loose and flexible so you can relate. A lot of people write poetry to relieve emotional burdens. Keeping that in mind, listen to how the poet performs and pay attention to how Phil Kaye makes you feel, what words he stresses, and his facial expressions and body language. Have fun!

This video is my favorite version of his poem.

Now, there are actually multiple filmed performances of his poem. There’s one on Button Poetry’s channel and there’s a visual representation of it here. So, even the poet doesn’t know what exactly is the best interpretation of the poem. Art is so versatile that the reader, the poet, and the audience all have different interpretations. But, ultimately, the poem is about emotion and understanding, communication and abstraction, and whatever else you want it to mean. I hope you know that poetry can be beautiful. And I hope that you take up poetry writing yourself.

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