Though I have always been a writer (filling composition notebooks full of silly stories as a kid, writing novels through college) poetry was not something I loved. Rather, poetry was something I actively claimed to dislike.
I remember completing a poetry analysis in tenth grade English on Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” where we had to identify, line by line, the most accurate description of the meaning. This was a computerized test, and as I selected each answer, the screen would flash red—INCORRECT. INCORRECT. INCORRECT. I earned a D and was asked to retake the test. I decided right then, I wasn’t smart enough for poetry.
In college, I was required to take a poetry class for my English degree. I thought, can’t I just stick to fiction? That’s my thing! I went on to learn about a few other famous poets (ones that weren’t all white men, but were certainly all dead). While I enjoyed this class a little more, I still left thinking poetry wasn’t my thing.
It wasn’t until four years after I graduated that I found contemporary poetry—poetry about things I could relate to, in words I could mostly understand. I was intrigued. I kept reading. Over time, I came to understand what I wasn’t taught in school, that poetry is so much more than meter and rhyme, so much more than can be captured in a few widely regarded poems. I have sat in many workshops discussing the definition of poetry, questioning if there is one at all. The freedom and play I have found while writing poetry is unmatched.
As much as I now appreciate some of the classics, starting with them made me feel like I was trying to enter a secret club and I didn’t have the password. When I became a teacher, I knew I wanted a different experience for my students. I wanted them to believe they were welcome. I wanted them to read poems written by writers they could relate to, and ones that presented an entirely new worldview. I wanted them to express themselves in whatever way felt right. I always told my students, there is no wrong way to read or write a poem. If a poem left you a little bit different than it found you, that is the magic of poetry.
I left the classroom two years ago for a life on the road and have since had to find new, creative ways to spread this magic. I began teaching my own workshops and challenging people to write more freely and authentically. I want to support poetry (something I believe is largely undervalued in our society) in any way I can. I am thrilled for this opportunity to work with Sundress Publications, to help spread the words of those who are generously sharing their stories with the world.
Jen Gayda Gupta is a poet, educator, and wanderer. She earned her BA in English at the University of Connecticut and her MA in Teaching English from New York University. Jen lives, writes, and travels across the U.S. in a tiny camper with her husband and their dog. Her work has been published in Up the Staircase, Rattle, Jellyfish Review, Sky Island Journal, The Shore, and others. You can find her @jengaydagupta and jengaydagupta.com.
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