Crushing the poetry myth

By: Josh Fernandez The Press Tribune
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When people say they don’t read poetry because they don’t understand it, they’re perpetuating a myth that poetry is too complex and boring for the average reader. And Tim Kahl, a Sacramento poet who will be in Roseville Thursday, will be glad to dispel the myth in person. Kahl’s poetry is easily relatable to the common reader and his first full-length collection of poems, Possessing Yourself, is full of humorous narratives that cover everything from spiders to Sesame Street’s Grover. But his poems – while bare bones and straightforward – also allow readers to understand exactly what it means to be a human being. Which is one of the purposes of poetry. Some scholars call Kahl’s brand of narrative “accessible” poetry. In other words, you don’t need an Ivy League degree in linguistics to figure it out. “I came up through the ranks with people who were very experimental. It was not meant to be digested very easily, but that’s one kind of writing,” Kahl says. “That kind of writing doesn’t do very well live. As much as I love it on the page, when I hear those kinds of poets read I start to cringe after a while.” John Bowman, curator for the “Outta the Blue Poetry Series” at Blue Line Gallery invited Kahl to read, partly because of his ability to boil down complex ideas into entertaining narrative. “Much of his poetry is very down-to-earth stuff about his family, friends and personal experiences,” Bowman says. “But he also writes on a wide variety of other topics and is known to even sing a few lines of poetry at his readings.” But don’t be fooled. It takes a lot of hard work and tremendous talent to write in such an effortless and entertaining manner as Kahl does. He’s a prolific writer. Kahl’s work has been published in Prairie Schooner, American Letters & Commentary, Berkeley Poetry Review, Fourteen Hills, Indiana Review, Limestone, Nimrod, Notre Dame Review, the Spoon River Poetry Review, and many other journals and magazines. In addition to writing, Kahl helps run the Sacramento Poetry Center, and he teaches at both Sacramento City College and the University of the Pacific. With a focus on clear ideas and witty ways of communicating them to an audience, poets like Kahl help diminish the myth of poetry’s inaccessibility. With writing like this, poetry won’t need some multi-million dollar public relations campaign to get more people out to readings. “When I think about our era right now, the way things move to popularity is through great efforts to market it in particular ways,” Kahl says. “And I’m not really excited about that. In an old fashioned way, I think if you just do good work that is interesting, people will come to it.” Josh Fernandez can be reached at