By Marcella Remund
People often make assumptions about poetry. Many people think poetry is a private thing that only certain people do tucked away in dimly-lit attics, usually late at night. Or, they think poetry is written by “eggheads” purposefully trying to confuse the rest of us. Or, they think poetry is a thing of the past, written by long-gone elitist academics living on the good will of patrons. Or, they think poetry is rhyme-y or angry stuff written by overly-romantic or angsty teens.
There are also people who think the only kinds of poetry being written in South Dakota are cowboy poems or pastoral, wide-open-spaces poems.
The truth is, poetry is ALL of this, all the good and all the bad, but it’s also so much more.
When I joined SDSPS, and now serving on the Board, I learned about the incredible wealth and range of poetry, and the diversity of poets, in South Dakota. We have talented K-12 students writing poetry; we have the essential voices of Native American and immigrant poets; we have ranchers writing poems about the city, and city-dwellers writing about the countryside. We have poets from across the state writing about the “universal” subjects: life, death, and relationships.
Along with a diversity of poems and subjects, South Dakota poets represent every walk of life. We’re doctors, lawyers, school teachers, custodians, churchgoers, atheists, retired folks, new parents, young professionals, activists, environmentalists, artists, musicians, service providers, salon workers, police officers, and more.
In other words, I’ve learned two important things about poetry in South Dakota over the years:
(1) Poetry is for EVERYONE. One poem may feel too hard for someone to understand, but the next poem might make that person weep or laugh hysterically. The trick is to keep reading; you will find the poems that speak to YOU.
(2) ANYONE can write poems. Few will become great poets. Not everyone who wants to will get published. But that shouldn’t stop you. It’s like my sourdough bread (you knew I’d get here eventually, right?): My sourdough loaves sometimes come out like gnarled tree stumps or cement doorstops, but that doesn’t stop me from baking. I’ll never be on a British baking show, but baking warms my heart, and even bad loaves make the house smell great. For me, poetry is like that; it’s as much about WRITING poems as it is about other people reading them.
The writer John Fowles said, “We all write poems; it is simply that poets are the ones who write in words.” So keep reading poetry, join SDSPS (if you haven’t already), and think about what YOU might put into words!