Last week, while discussing some of Evie Shockley's poems with students, I was reminded of the power of poems that tell stories vs. those that do not. I asked students about the poems that they struggled with in Shockley's the new black, and some of them mentioned how they tended to be drawn to poems that tell stories.
They meant they preferred what are sometimes known as "narrative poems." Their preferences speaks to the power of narrative or really the appeal and familiarity of narrative. Beyond narrative poems vs. supposed non-narrative, lyric, and "experimental" poems, we might also consider that novels and autobiographies tend to have more widespread appeal than volumes of poetry. The reason has to do in part with the idea that novels and autobiographies are more known for presenting stories or narratives than books of poems. (There are, no doubt, exceptions to the rule).
Of course now, looking back on the conversation with my class, I wish that I had thought to make a stronger case for what we stand to gain by thinking beyond narrative poems. I wish I had asked folks to consider the limits of narratives. I wish I had...well, maybe it's not too late. We'll likely have more conversations.
In the meantime, I should probably think of more ways to make the case for appreciating poems that do not tell stories or that do not present stories in such familiar ways to readers. I clearly have strong preferences for narratives, but I am also interested in working with my students to discover additional ways of reading.