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Reading Poetry Around the Globe

Most of us are familiar with gushi from Chinese classes and Shakespearean sonnets from English Literature lessons. But did you know that cultures all over the globe have their own poets and poems that are equally worth reading?

Reading writers from around the world opens your eyes to many more forms of poetry. For example, French villanelles have five three-line stanzas and a final four-line stanza. The first and third lines of the first stanza repeat alternately in the other stanzas, and form the final couplet in the quatrain. The ghazal, a common type of middle-Eastern poem, has five to fifteen rhyming couplets that share a refrain at the end of the second line, each line having the same rhythm. These are just two forms out of the hundreds of existing poetic forms. These forms can bring new and surprising reading experiences.

Poetry from different countries offers a wide variety of historical and cultural knowledge. Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian writer, has created poems that explore his views on his Igbo identity and culture, as well as Nigeria’s history of colonialism. Korean poet Seo Jeong-ju shares his thoughts on Buddhism – a prominent religion in Korea – and reflects on Korea’s history with Japanese imperialism. These works allow us to learn more about history and cultures around the world.

As poems offer the unique perspectives of people from diverse cultures, readers become more empathetic and learn to consider viewpoints of other individuals. African-American poet Maya Angelou’s work tells us about the lack of rights of her people and their place in America. Filipino writer Nick Joaquin’s poems express his views on the importance of preserving Catholic traditions in modern Filipino society. Today, the world is getting more and more divided, making it hugely important for us to be able to be more empathetic and put ourselves in others’ shoes, and poems give us the chance to see issues from a fresh viewpoint.

There are so many things we can gain from reading poetry from around the globe. Don’t hesitate to branch out and try something new!