Why do so few people read poetry these days? Maurice Mierau, in his Winnipeg Free Press column, has one answer. (By the way, I am pleased, not to mention impressed, that the Free Press actually has a monthly poetry column in its book section. Wonder how many other newspapers can say the same.) Poets, Maurice says, tend to read their work with a complete lack of expression, and seem to think sophisticated poetry shouldn’t have rhyme or rhythm. It’s one of those things everybody knows– “everybody except anyone who published before the 20th century, which means 80 per cent of poetry in English. Everybody except Bob Dylan, Robert Frost and any half-decent rap artist.” Audiences, he says, “will never stop yearning for poems that sound good.”
There’s a reason people will always be attracted to poetry like this. Patterns are an aid to memory; a poem with rhyme or rhythm is more likely to stick in your mind than one that has none. I think– and there’s probably theoretical writing out there to confirm this– that it has to do with poetry’s connection to music, and music’s connection to the body. Just as words arranged in patterns are easier to remember, so are words set to music. That’s why I can still recite large chunks of Dr. Seuss, even though my sons don’t read those books much any more. That’s why we all learned the alphabet with the help of a song, and why people can remember advertising jingles that they haven’t heard since the age of eight.