Five Reasons to Study Poetry in 2017

Apr 18, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

STEM, STEM, STEM, STEM. STEM. In case you haven’t noticed, STEM studies garner a huge amount of attention in 2017. And with good reason: countries all over the world need graduates with STEM skills to navigate the challenges ahead. But as Miguel de Cervantes wrote in Don Quijote, “De todos ha de haber en el mundo,” or “There must be of all [types] in the world.” One of the types needed most of all? Poets and poetry lovers. If you’re thinking of taking poetry classes but wondering whether doing so is a worthwhile investment, read on for five benefits offered by poetry studies.

 

1. It boosts creativity.

Regardless of the field you work in, the ability to think outside the box is critical. Much of what students encounter is today’s classrooms is based on data, theories, and facts. While there’s a time and place for these heady pursuits, poetry studies enhance your education in a different and equally valuable way.

Asserts one Intercollegiate Review article, “Reading poetry is good for you because it stretches your imagination. To get a poem you have to step outside your narrow little world and see the world from a new perspective. The poet makes connections that nobody else makes and to understand them, you must get your mind out of a rut and double check your understanding of reality….As your imagination is stretched your perception of reality widens out. Things are not what they seemed. They are more than what you thought they were, and this shake up of your preconceptions is what education is all about.”

 

2. It opens the door to a rich network of contacts.

Even if you don’t major in studies, taking a poetry or other creative writing class is a wonderful way to broaden your personal and professional network. Says the UK’s Young Poets Network, “You will probably have classes with published writers, publishers and agents – a great way of making contacts for the future. You will meet other writers to bounce off and probably form lifelong friends who also double as workshoppers intimate with your writing. There is a readymade group of writers for whatever crazy writing ventures you plan to undertake!”

If you continue along the path to becoming a writer, you can continue to call upon these people for their input and insights. But even if you don’t end up making your living as a poet, these benefits remain. After all, one of the main points of college is to meet people different than yourself. Whether you’re in engineering, history, public health, medicine, political science, or one of countless other potential areas of study, taking poetry classes will add diversity to your life.

 

3. It builds resiliency.

In a The Guardian piece on how poetry saw her through her troubled teenage years, poet and writer Jeanette Winterson said, “When people say that poetry is merely a luxury for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn't be read much at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language - and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers - a language powerful enough to say how it is... Through the agency of the poem that is powerful enough to clarifying feelings into facts, I am no longer dumb, not speechless, not lost. Language is a finding place, not a hiding place.”

In other words, bringing more poetry into our lives can not only help us see the world in new ways, but can also help us find in ourselves new understanding, strength and even joy in difficult things.

 

4. Learning to tell a story is important.

In the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams’ character insists, “Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for…That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”  Certainly, poetry gives meaning to life, but life also gives meaning to poetry. Specifically, the ability to compellingly tell a story -- yours or something else entirely -- can mean the difference between making your point and losing the attention of your audience.

In learning how to navigate the compact language form of poetry to tell a story, you will learn how to make the most of your words -- a multidisciplinary skill which will carry over to many other aspects of your life.

 

5. It can help you excel in your job -- any job.

Poetry and the world of business may seem like they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. However, as one recent Harvard Business Review article points out, many famous poets have thrived in business careers. Perhaps if we all looked at the world through the world through the lens of a poet, the article suggests, “We might find our colleagues more hopeful and purposeful and our work revitalized with more surprise, meaning, and beauty.”

HBR’s conclusion? “Poetry isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to every business problem. There are plenty of business leaders who’ve never read poetry and have been wholly successful. But to those open to it, reading and writing poetry can be a valuable component of leadership development.”

On a more direct note, poetry studies can also help you hone your linguistic capabilities and the ability to communicate -- both sought-after skills by today’s global employers.

Poets have been putting pen to paper for thousands of years. Regardless of where the future leads us, they’re likely to be doing the same thousands of years from now. Why? Because, according to American poet William Stafford, it’s something we all have in us.

When asked what drew him to poetry,Stafford’s go-to response was, “The question isn’t when I became a poet; the question is when other people stopped.” The takeaway? If you’re looking for an exciting and fulfilling challenge with plenty of lesser-known benefits, poetry studies offer a one-of-a-kind opportunity to get in touch with your inner latent poet.

 

 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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