David Hill: Partake in the feast and have a jolly good rhyme

Things will go from bad to verse tomorrow. It's Poetry Day. Planned events in Auckland include street performances and poetry displays in and around Queen St from 6am; a 12.30pm reading at the City Art Gallery and a "poetry tree" in Ponsonby Rd.

In Wellington, they're chalking poems on CBD footpaths. We'll refrain from comment on when Wellington poets will move up to paper. But they're all great ideas.

We should all be reading poetry. It has has all sorts of spin-offs for all ages.

* It's an antidote to superficiality. Video games, the internet and a large chunk of the media are focused on ephemera, an endless here and now. Poetry makes you hit the pause button. It can bring focus and stillness. It's deep reading as opposed to superficial skimming.

* We're in an age when doing is valued above being and thinking. Reading poetry can help restore a balance. And let's cover all bases by pointing out that reading is a form of doing, anyway. The apparent stillness of reading belies all the activity going on underneath.

* Poetry helps you take control. So much of it is an exploration and analysis of feelings, aspirations, reactions.

Reading it helps define your emotions and attitudes, and gives them a shape.

* Poetry gives you words, and words help keep you out of trouble. With words, you can explain and defend yourself. Conversely, lack of words means frustration and confusion, which means low self-esteem and aggression, which means trouble. Think of the number of illiterate young men in prison.

* Reading poetry makes you less isolated. Someone else has felt this way, had this problem, experienced this sensation.

* Poetry lets you move in the best circles. Really great poems are the peak of language, they're distilled speech. If you can afford it, you treat yourself to top-class food and travel. Why not try top-class words? They cost only a fraction as much.

* In a time of image-obsession, personality cults and therapists it is curious so few people read poetry to to find truths about themselves and their condition - with potent language and at almost no expense.

* Learn poetry and you carry a pleasure with you. You know the enjoyment of replaying a favourite tune inside your head or half-aloud? Poetry can give that same pleasure. Its energy travels with you.

* Poetry is physically beneficial. Read or recite lines you like, feel their beat and pace, and feel more buoyant afterwards. Partly it's the rhythms, appealing to our inner primate. Partly it's the stroke of the words. The ultrasonic vibrations of a cat's purr can help repair damaged tissue. There's some of that in reading poetry.

* It reminds you of the sheer variety of the world - what Louis MacNeice called "the drunkenness of things being various". The best poems come at things from several angles and on several levels. They show that something can be tragic and farcical at the same time. Read poetry and you'll get new perspectives.

* Poetry makes you tough. Reading and learning it can demand perseverance, fitness, determination. People who read poetry aren't wimps. Those who won't read it are more likely to fit into that category.

Aussie writer Peter Porter put it brilliantly: "Poetry is a form of refrigeration to stop the language from going bad." So take a moment and open your fridge door tomorrow.

* David Hill is a Taranaki writer.

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