My love affair with English poetry

Posted on April 17, 2023

I first met English Poetry in junior high school. Grade Eight. I was swept up, up, up and away in “The Raven (opens in new tab)”’s claws. Swept away and rapt, as if seated in the very room where perched this sinister fowl. I was both enthralled and enraptured, and fundamentally fascinated by its wild rhyming musicality. How could mere words on a page jump up and out and bounce around? And so pleasingly escort me into the world of Gothic poesy? Who knew that doom and gloom could be so enticing? I certainly didn’t. Before I met English Poetry with a capital “E” and a capital “P,” my main poetic references were nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss (English is neither my mother tongue nor my language of schooling). So this high school foray into the wonders of the English language was a turning point.

The days of red roses and blue violets were dead and gone. Time to ditch the Archie comics and say hello to the marvels of alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor, oh my! A whole universe of possibilities unfolding in images and multilayered meaning. My perception of the English language, and its effect on me, changed for evermore.


As you can see, it’s hard to keep from waxing poetic about EP. It can be so many things. As I’ve noted above, it can be rapturous, like “The Raven.” But it can also be soft and sublime, like Robert Frost’s “The Silken Tent (opens in new tab),” or hard and striking, but oh so satisfying, like Margaret Atwood’s “You Fit Into Me (opens in new tab).” Indeed, the feelings evoked in the latter two poems alone run an impressively wide gamut. The former lifts you up onto gossamer wings of sweet wonderment. The latter grinds you to a halt and slaps you in the face.

Let me explain.

In “The Silken Tent,” I discovered a modern poem written in accessible language. Though replete with classic literary devices such as the sonnet form, simile (“she is as in a field a silken tent”) and alliteration (“supporting central cedar pole”), its verses flow into one another seamlessly. The poem is one long metaphor describing the speaker’s love and admiration for a woman, yet it is entirely free of cloy and cliché. The language is philosophical yet familiar. The images are exquisite. The vision portrayed takes your breath away.

The next phase of my love affair with EP was “You Fit Into Me.” I consider this free-verse jewel to be the trigger for my interest in slam. More on that in a sec. The poem consists of four innocent little lines. Each. One. Packs. A. Punch. In different ways. It opens with a potentially tender scenario, only to end with … well … cold, clear horror. Read it out loud, slowly, and settle into the shock.

Next level

In fact, read any poem or random piece of literature out loud, and you’ve got spoken word! Depending on your spin, the work will come alive in a whole new way. This is where rhythm, cadence and musicality make all the difference. Emphasis and inflection provide tempo and volume. Dots and squiggles (aka punctuation) morph into pauses … lulls; silence.

To me, poems spoken out loud take on singular flavours. Rosanna Deerchild’s “On the First Day (opens in new tab)” is a vivid and extremely moving case in point. The poem describes the author’s mother’s first day at residential school, where the children are taken to a room to have their braids cut off. The chopping off of braids also functions as a metaphor for the entire harrowing experience of residential school, although the poem stays firmly planted in the images making up that event. The poem’s lines are lower-cased and short. And sharp, like the scissors performing that crude job. When you listen to Deerchild speak it out loud, there is almost a sing-song quality to it, but every word is clearly articulated, with plenty of short, clicky sounds: hard c’s and t’s. Like “The Raven,” it picks you up; but, unlike “The Raven,” it doesn’t sweep you away: it holds you in its poignancy.

Clearly, this poem is extremely powerful on paper, but the performance thereof knocks it out of the park. Spoken word is oral performance art; slam takes that performance to the next level. A poetry slam is an event where poets perform their art before a live audience according to a certain set of rules and are judged on their performance. A modern minstrel competition of sorts. For me, slam was yet another revelation in my love affair with EP: I witnessed the English language play out in real time, and was exhilarated.

Relationship roundup

In a nutshell, what poetry does for me is what any great art does: stirs up emotions and makes me think. If you’re open and willing, you can embark on a lyric rollercoaster and experience the full richness of the English language. Check it out and enjoy the ride!


The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

Get to know Claudia Rathjen

Claudia Rathjen

Claudia Rathjen

Claudia is a translator, mother of two and confirmed language lover. She enjoys the finer things in life—Quebec daily drama series, visits to the dog park and poutine on the canal. Having grown up trilingual, she strives to keep up on her reading in German, English and French, and to pass this delight on to her children.




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Submitted by Raymond Frank on April 17, 2023, at 23:36

Thoroughly enjoyed the richness of this post.