“I, too, dislike it.” Marianne Moore, “Poetry” But you don’t hate it. At least that’s what I hope you’ll discover as you read this column. I don’t want to convince you that you should love poetry. I want to convince you that you already do. If you know by heart the lyrics to your favorite song, you already love one kind of poetry. You love another whenever you laugh at a joke or groan over a bad pun. The jargon of your profession and the slang you speak with friends are poetry. So are the metaphors we use to describe this world we all are trying to understand. For instance: we are so immersed in poetry that to hate it would be like a fish hating water. Silly and inexact as it may be, that simile— this is like that —is a poetic gesture, a comparison that attempts to present an abstract idea in concrete terms. My metaphor might not be good poetry, but it’s still poetry. Poetry is a name for the pleasure we take in the language we hear and speak, read and write. We savor words for their music as well as what they mean, the wonderful alchemy of their sound and sense together, even as we use them for the most mundane, practical purposes. We find poetry in poems, of course—“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers”—but we find it elsewhere too. In this column you’ll encounter traditional and nontraditional poems alike. But I also hope that the words we will share, both in poems and about poems, can welcome you to the pleasures and challenges—the poetry—of words, wherever we find them. Let me offer an example: I also teach a college course called “Poetry for People Who Hate Poetry,” from which this column has evolved. On the first day of class we introduce ourselves: name, major, hometown, etc. But then I ask each student a strange icebreaker. What is your favorite word? They hesitate. What an odd question. They look for the door. Just pick one , I tell them. It won’t be etched in stone; you don’t have to get it tattooed on you. So—if a bit suspiciously—they do. “Serendipity,” they say. “Defenestrate.” They say “Home.” “Dream.” Their responses often divide them into two camps: some choose a word because they “just like the way it sounds.” Others select a word that holds some personal meaning for them in addition to its “dictionary definition.” Readers of poetry tend to divide along similar lines, as the poet and critic James Fenton has observed. There are “those who, confronted with what appears to be like a code, insist that they must crack it, and those who are happy to listen to the spell, without inquiring too closely what it might mean.”[i] That “spell,” as Fenton calls it, was cast on all of us long ago. It is the spell not only of poetry but of words themselves. We love the way words sound; we are bound to them by what they mean. Poetry happens—in metaphors or jokes or in poems themselves—at that place where sound and sense blur into each other. We may not realize that we are under the spell of poetry, because poetry is made of ordinary language (if language can ever be ordinary). Some words we use to toast a wedding or to bless the dead; others we use to order a pizza. Language is the medium of our speech and thought and being, so it is natural that we would take pleasure in it. It is also natural to take that same pleasure—not to mention its profundity—for granted. Poetry indeed offers us pleasure, but it can offer much more than that. I believe that poetry can be a way of making meaning of our lives and of the lives of others. We do this with words, even as words themselves remain a mystery. Stare at any word for a while, say it again and again to yourself, and it becomes a foreign language. Its meaning bleeds from it, and the word reclaims its original and utter strangeness. “Every word was once a poem,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1844. “Every new relation is a new word.