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Why is Poetry Important? Celebrating National Poetry Month

A woman reading poetry to celebrate national poetry month and demonstrate why poetry is important

If you think poetry isn't for you, this month might be the right time to give it a second chance.

Every April in the United States, National Poetry Month invites you to experience and celebrate an art form that can transform your understanding of yourself and your world.

Stephanie Wytovich, a creative writing adjunct at SNHU and American poet, novelist and essayistSouthern New Hampshire University (SNHU) creative writing adjunct Stephanie Wytovich is an American poet, novelist and essayist. She’s the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press and a recipient of the Elizabeth Matchett Stover Memorial Award, the 2021 Ladies of Horror Fiction Writers Grant and the Rocky Wood Memorial Scholarship for nonfiction writing.

She also has a Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection, “Brothel,” published by Raw Dog Screaming Press, along with several other poetry titles and her nonfiction craft book, “Writing Poetry in the Dark.”

According to Wytovich, you might have a negative relationship with poetry today based on how it was presented to you as a child.

“We’re introduced to it through nursery rhymes and folklore and whimsy, and then all of that is removed and looked down on when we get into middle school and high school and have to start counting syllables and memorizing Shakespeare,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong; the latter is important and holds so much value, but it’s also a bit stressful, and it’s easy to harbor resentment against it.”

National Poetry Month, she said, is a chance to form a new relationship with poetry on your own terms and develop a full appreciation of the art form. 

“Having something like National Poetry Month both allows and encourages us to find our way back to poetry without any rules or expectations,” said Wytovich.

First, What is Poetry?

Poetry is among the four major genres of literature, alongside fiction, nonfiction and drama. But it may be one of the most challenging genres to define. 

According to the Academy of American Poets, poetry is a human fundamental, just like music. “It predates literacy and precedes prose in all literatures,” the Academy states on its website. “There has probably never been a culture without it, yet no one knows precisely what it is.”

Wytovich agreed that it's difficult to define such a broad genre.

A blue icon of a hand writing“Essentially, I think poetry is a bit undefinable, and that is where a lot of its beauty lives,” Wytovich said. “We all know when we’re reading a poem or experiencing something poetic, so I think it’s maybe a hum that exists somewhere in the liminal places of life, and when we’re lucky, we get to experience it and maybe even capture it ourselves."

Ultimately, Britannica said poetry is a type of literature that evokes imagination and emotion through specific language chosen and presented based on sound, rhythm and meaning. However, there are also many types of poetry, each with specific rules and definitions.

Types of Poetry

Writer's Digest reports that there are at least 168 different poetic forms stemming from various cultural traditions. Some of these forms and their definitions, according to Writer’s Digest, include:

  • Haiku: A haiku is a popular Japanese form adhering to specific numbers of lines and syllables.
  • Free Verse: These poems allow for breaking lines at any time and are usually without rhymes.
  • Ode: An ode is a poem dedicated to praising a particular subject.
  • Prose: Prose poetry is often presented in paragraphs without line breaks, mirroring literary prose.
  • Sonnet: William Shakespeare is famous for these structured 14-line poems.

These are just a few different types, but there are plenty of others — and National Poetry Month could be the perfect time to explore more of them.

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The History of National Poetry Month

Inspired by the success of Black History Month and Women’s History Month, the Academy of American Poets reports that they originated National Poetry Month in 1996.

“We’d like it to be a time when a large sector of the American public will realize that we have an active, thriving literary culture in this country and that poets are an important part of that culture,” said the Academy’s executive director at the time, Bill Wadsworth, according to an essay published in Ploughshares.

Since then, poets, educators, librarians, booksellers and readers in the United States have celebrated poetry in the month of April through a variety of projects, events and initiatives — and, of course, through independently reading and writing poetry.

So, Why Does Poetry Matter?

In a Poetry Foundation piece commemorating National Poetry Month, poet Ali Leibegott discussed how individuals and communities often turn to poetry in their darkest times.

“Poetry sales rose after 9/11,” Leibegott said. “It is reassuring to know that poetry somehow answers the unanswerable.”

Sales for poetry books also increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Vanity Fair.

In addition to being a vehicle for a deeper understanding of the world around you, poetry can also offer catharsis and teach you about yourself.

A scroll with a heart and arrow on a blue background“Poetry encourages us to put words to feelings that we can’t otherwise describe,” Wytovich said. “It allows us to communicate our fears and passions and joys and memories in a way that preserves them, honors them and lets other people interact and share in those moments, too.”

In fact, Wytovich said she started writing poetry in middle school based on a recommendation from a therapist.

“I was having a hard time working through some of my trauma, and they mentioned that exploring my emotions and working out some of the images I was stuck on might be beneficial to helping me process and heal,” she said. “Once I started, I’ve never stopped. It’s been my greatest and healthiest companion through life.”

In addition to the therapeutic nature of poetry writing, Wytovich noted that reading poetry has its own emotional and intellectual benefits.

“Reading it is also a great mind workout because it’s encouraging us to constantly work out and reconfigure a puzzle that everyone is going to build and react to differently,” she said.

Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month

A celebration iconApril 2024 marks the 28th National Poetry Month, and there are plenty of ways to celebrate. Wytovich said one of her favorite ways to celebrate is by reading a poetry collection by a writer who is new to her. In addition to reading poetry, you could always write it. 

“If you’re a poet — write! And if you really want a challenge, try writing in a different form or style,” Wytovich said. “Don’t be afraid to experiment and stretch your wings a bit. There’s a lot of beauty in trying something new.”And if you're interested in seriously pursuing the craft, consider studying poetry. SNHU’s bachelor’s in creative writing and master’s in creative writing both offer concentrations in poetry for those committed to developing their skills.

Whether you choose to celebrate National Poetry Month through writing or reading, you'll be engaging in more than an artistic pursuit. Embracing the power of poetry could also be a therapeutic experience that deepens your connection to your own humanity.

Discover more about SNHU's bachelor's in English and creative writing: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you'll learn and how to request information about the program.

Mars Girolimon '21 '23G is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University where they earned their bachelor's and master's, both in English and creative writing. In addition to their work in higher education, Girolimon's short fiction is published in the North American Review, So It Goes by The Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library, X-R-A-Y and more. They're currently writing their debut novel, which was Longlisted for The First Pages Prize. Connect with them on LinkedIn.

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