Thursday, September 27, 2018

5 Strategies to Actually Enjoy Reading Poetry (+ Recommendations!)

Yeah, I don't really "get" poetry. Poetry is too complicated. Poetry goes over my head. It's pretentious. It's for English major nerds. It's definitely not for me.

These phrases or variants of them are probably things you've either said sometime in life, or you've heard someone else say. I have definitely both said them and heard them said. Poetry is often thought of as complicated work that is hard to understand and inaccessible to most people.

Well, I'm hear to tell you, no longer!

I've gotten a lot more into reading poetry lately, mostly the result of a writer's festival I'm volunteering for. A lot of the writers I was unfamiliar with, so I thought I should read some of their work. Most of them turned out to be poets, so I ended up checking out a bunch of poetry books from the library and fell in LOVE.

Anyway here are some things I've kept in mind while reading poetry that have helped make it an entirely more enjoyable experience*:

1. Just read 

Read poetry as you would any other book - for enjoyment, line by line, taking in the words. You don't have to worry about extracting a certain meaning from the text because this is your reading time. Don't worry too much about trying to understand the poem either, just kind of let the words wash over you how they will. Getting frustrated that you aren't getting something is a sure fire way of taking the fun out of reading poetry.

2. Skip poems you don't like

Is there a poem that puts you off, or is just way too out there for you no matter how many times you reread it? Instead of feeling like a failure for not understanding great art, acknowledge that subjective experience is a thing and you won't click with every poem. The fun thing about poetry books is they include a whole bunch of poems - some that will click with you and make you feel like you were punched in the gut, and others that you'll breeze through and never think about again.

3. Let them connect with you where you're at

One of the cool things about poetry is how they can really deeply speak to someone's experience. A certain poem you read may really impact you and speak to where your life or mindset is at the moment, and that's the really powerful, fun part of reading poetry. Hold on to those moments. Save your favourite poems to reread later when you're in that emotional space.

4. You don't have to read everything

Just like anything else, not all poems are for everyone! Find poems that *you* enjoy reading. There are so many different ways of writing poetry out there. Some styles might annoy you, so just stay away from those! Your pretentious artist cred won't be damaged if you skip over poems you don't like for ones you enjoy. Maybe you like T.S. Eliot. Maybe Rupi Kaur's simple but elegant style is more for you.

5. Don't care what other people think

Poetry is often given a bad image (mainly from terrible high school English classes, at least in my experience). In some literary circles, you can be put down from liking certain kinds of poets or liking poets that use language in a more direct way. You can be made to feel stupid for not understanding or liking old classic poets (probably old white men anyway), or childish for following your favourite Instagram poets. But I say poetry should be consumed and enjoyed, whatever way you might wish to do that. So don't care about the pretentious literary snobs. They aren't having as much fun as you.

So, now that you're super excited to get into poetry, where should you start? Well, I've got some great recommendations for you:

#IndianLovePoems by Tenille K. Campbell is a collection of poems on Indigenous intimacy, sexuality, love and family, interwoven with Indigenous cultural images. The poems are quick and easy to read, but they are also hilarious and bold. It's a stunning and confident collection which you should go read right now.

This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt knocked me off my feet from the very first poem. I would dog-ear the entire book if I wasn't borrowing it from the library (I will buy it asap don't worry). These poems focus on themes of Indigenous and queer identity, and the sadness that can be encompassed in that, but also the beauty of feeling that sadness. Belcourt says in his afterword that his book is "nothing if not a tribute to the potentiality of sadness" and that sharing the feeling of being lonely or alone is a way to make new forms of collectivity. His poems are absolutely heartbreaking but in the best, most cathartic way.

questions i asked my mother by Di Brandt was a book that shook up Mennonite communities when it was first published, and it still has the potential to speak to religious communities today, with commentary included in her poems on traditional religious roles, traditional communities, patriarchy, women’s speech and sexuality. It presents these themes in beautiful unstructured poems that have incredible depth to them.

Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit by Mikko Harvey is an absolutely fascinating collection of poems that turns the world on its head. These are the kinds of poems that after you've finished them you feel like you've been punched in the gut because they turn out to be about something different than you originally thought. I had the opportunity to hear the title poem of this book read aloud by Harvey, and after he finished it you could literally hear the audience exclaim under their breath in awe and wonder.

Well, there you have it. You now have all the tools to be a poetry connoisseur, and be exposed to some great, world-changing writing.

*Disclaimer: while these strategies can be useful for enjoying poetry again, they should not be used for poetry analysis for classes. Although I've found knowing how to analyze poetry actually aids in my enjoyment sometimes! However, this is basically just a guide to remove some barriers and get you started. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: Nobody Cares by Anne T. Donahue

On the back page of Nobody Cares is the catch phrase "Just a girl, standing in front of  a reader, reminding them they aren't alone." That line pretty much sums up the feeling of the book: a simple book of relatable personal essays.

Nobody Cares is based off Anne T. Donahue's online newsletter of the same name, and you can definitely feel that Donahue has an internet audience in mind throughout her book. While none of the personal essays really hit me hard, it was partly my own expectations, and I still enjoyed it enough to read the entire book fairly quickly. In some parts I did wish she dug a bit deeper, but I don't think that's what this book is trying to do.

The personal essays in Nobody Cares are light, short personal lessons that the author has learned over the course of her life. Basically each one is in the style of an inspirational online article. It's half advice column, half diary entry. They cover a variety of situations in Donahue's life, from friendship and dating to just things you learn growing up. A lot of her essays also focus on her personal experiences with anxiety, and learning that "nobody cares." Donahue's honest voice and ability to laugh at herself makes Nobody Cares an entertaining read.

I think this book would be a good gift book for anyone in your life, perhaps especially people who suffer from anxiety since a lot of Anne's personal essays focus on that. It was very much a feel-good book of essays. A good quick, easy read for a sunny day.

Nobody Cares on ECW Press
Nobody Cares on
Nobody Cares on
Nobody Cares on Goodreads

Saturday, September 8, 2018

I Accidentally Started and Finished a Poem Project

I'm not quite sure how it happened. One year, I had created a mostly dormant Instagram account solely to see photos of my friend's baby, and I named it asherlockwrites because that was already my username on Twitter. I didn't really use it much until this summer, when, inspired by a few friends I started posting more ~artsy~ posts (check them out here, here and here). And I reminded myself of my goal to share more writing this year, everywhere and anywhere.

And my username was a. sherlock writes after all. May as well use it to do some writing.

So I started this project on a whim of inspiration and a healthy dose of "just do it." I started with a quick little thing I wrote, inspired by a beaver my dad and I saw on a bike ride one day in early spring.

After that, I saw the string of words that I had displayed on my wall, words that were reminders for me of things I'd learned over the past year. I had drawn them with watercolour paints and displayed them so I would be reminded daily of these things. What if, I thought... what if I created a poem for each word, trying to express the lesson I had learned? And if I alternated the words with like, scenery or something? That also included poems?

This project started as a kind of accidental waterfall where I ended up just going with the flow. But it became an exercise in vulnerability, being okay with imperfection, and making myself actually sit down and write. All the poems are pretty rough still, and I'm definitely not 100% happy with all of them, but that wasn't the point. The point was saying: just post it. Stop caring about it being perfect, being ready. Just get it out there.

And you know, I ended up quite liking sharing my poem project this time (the other time I did a poem project like this, I didn't share it). I like the comments and connections I made, the knowledge that maybe some people got what I was trying to say, or maybe they were reminded of something or learned something from lessons I had learned previously. Vulnerability, I've been learning this year, can be pretty powerful.

So I present to you a selection from my summer poem project, lessons & travels. You can read the complete project at

(also please read them on Instagram because otherwise the formatting of the poems gets messed up! This is what I get for using social media to post poetry, I guess.)

More posts from this year's writing series:
Begin Again, about how to start again after writing slumps
Scared of Being Afraid about how rewarding it is to share work
You, about the loveliness of everyone's unique writing style


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