Poetry rhymes with vitality

Runeberg cakes

Runeberg cakes

Have you felt the presence of poetry in your lives lately? I am asking you this question because three weeks ago, we celebrated Runeberg, the Finnish poet, and I was wondering, surrounded as I was by Runeberg cakes wherever I went, how many Finns still knew some of his poems by heart?

What about Valentine’s day, then? Isn’t it THE poetry day, THE day when your husband, partner, friend, whoever, is reciting a love/friendship poem to you – looking deeply into your eyes, hand on his/her chest, saying these words from the bottom of his/her heart? No?? Instead you got some modern poetry on your mobile in the style of: “L◯√∑ Today and Everyday! ˚*•.¸❤¸.•*”இ≻–‵♥இ≻–‵ ♥இ≻–‵♥இ≻–‵ ♥இ≻–…”. Isn’t it… a good start?

1) “poetry” rhymes with “inutility”

All these questions erupted into my life because I picked up the Toastmasters advanced “Interpretive reading” manual as my

upcoming Toastmasters assignment. It consists of the successive reading aloud of a short novel, a poem, a drama, a play and an oration from authors you like. This manual is often neglected because we all prefer giving persuasive PR speeches (advanced “PR” manual), inspiring technical presentations (advanced “technical presentations” manual), etc. that are besides much more valued professionally. If you read a poem for six to eight minutes, in whatever context, would anyone listen to you anyway? Would anyone even understand what you are talking about?

2) “poetry speaks” rhymes with “personal peaks”

Memories from our childhood often comprise an impressive set of rhymes usually revived at the birth of our children but what happens after this blessed period of our lives?

Virgil's Aeneid

Virgil's Aeneid

The first time poetry spoke to me was during my Latin classes (no, I am not 100 years old!!!!). We started the reading of Virgil’s “Aeneid”: it was so lucid and intense to my ears, flowing like spring water, that I could memorize the Latin text as we were reading. Image, sound, history and story, rhythm, meter, cadence, rhymes and even Virgil’s overabundance of metaphors or distorted sentences with subject, verb and object separated by a full paragraph at times, all participated in building an emotional trap in which I was meant to fall. Relentlessly working on the translation of the “Aeneid” verses into French captured my imagination then and left an imprint in my life that a gradual oblivion of the original text has not taken away.

3) “poetry is loud” rhymes with “read poetry aloud”!

You have to deeply understand a poem before performing it in front of an audience: analysis, reading aloud,

presentation work are the basis of your preparation. As a non native English-speaker though, I personally also turn to audio and video resources, especially those where the authors read their works themselves.  Most of the time, authors are not professional interpreters but they manage to convey a very specific emotion, one close to the creative source, which is electrifying.

In the absence of any interpretation of the Aeneid by Virgil himself, let’s take Margaret Atwood’s poem “This is a photograph of me” and try a small exercise. First read the text from within, letting it resonate with your emotions.

“This is a photograph of me”

“It was taken some time ago At first it seems to be a smeared print: blurred lines and grey flecks blended with the paper;

then, as you scan it, you can see something in the left-hand corner a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree (balsam or spruce) emerging and, to the right, halfway up what ought to be a gentle slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake, and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the center of the picture, just under the surface.

It is difficult to say where precisely, or to say how large or how small I am: the effect of water on light is a distortion.

but if you look long enough eventually you will see me.)”

Now let’s listen to the reading of “a photograph of me” by Margaret Atwood herself.

And let’s now turn to another interpretation by one of her fans.

How would you read the original text now? You have tro try numerous times before finding the most suitable way for YOU to say the text.

4) poetry spice: slam it, damn’it!

In the Toastmasters manual, there is a piece of advice which in my opinion is not in harmony with today’s trends – but it does not mean that the manual is wrong in general: avoid a “sing-song” interpretation. For training purposes, I would suggest a totally opposite direction: slam your text! I would go even further: slam everything you need to read aloud because the extremes it forces you to, will help you find your natural rhythm of enunciation, the moments when to pause, the moments when to suspend your audience’s breath to your words, etc. in one word, it will help you improve your communication skills tremendously and that’s why you joined or plan to join Toastmasters.

Katie Makkai is a famous slammer. Let’s listen to her interpretation of “pretty” that generated over 500 000 hits on youtube and lots enthusiastic comments and laughter.


That is probably more than “sing-song” but if you manage training and reading your next business report on the pattern of Katie’s “Pretty”, you will do wonders in the board room.

It is well possible that you don’t have enough time to allow poetry into your lives anymore but you could still download some poems randomly and schedule their podcast as a mental break in your busy day… I would advise you to establish this routine, because poetry could help you to approach the world from a different angle, deploying its creative wings on your daily joys and worries, and not only at a personal level.

Besides, it’s nearly springtime: why not try something fresh and new, why not to give poetry a try?


Some contemporary poetry resources:



@MargaretAtwood you can follow this famous Canadian poet on Twitter (she has over 135 000 followers)

Text by Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti @ruxandrabp



Based on the following initial text, Richard Lewis Communications suggested the following improvements (parts to be corrected highlighted in yellow).  http://www.slideshare.net/Toastmastersfinland/poetry-rhymes-with-integrated-corrections

1) Intially, I wrote:  ‘watching deeply into your eyes’. RLC comment: the verb should be ‘looking’ – “looking deeply into your eyes”. The verbs ‘see’, ‘look’ and ‘watch’ are subtly different. If we ‘see’ something, we cannot avoid it. Simply having our eyes open there are various things in front of us which we see. If we ‘look’ at something, we are deliberately focusing our attention on it. ‘Watch’ is used for things which are moving, where activity is going on. For example, we could go into a room and see a television. If we look at the television, we are looking at the physical object. But if we watch television we are following the programme. In the context of your sentence, ‘look’ is the correct verb as there is intense concentration. Watching someone’s eyes would be focusing on following the movements as they observed different things and moved around.

2)Initially, I wrote “it consists in”. RLC comment: the verb ‘consists’ is followed by the preposition ‘of’. Prepositions are not easy or entirely consistent in English. You just have to learn them!

3) ‘If you read a poem during six to eight minutes’ . RLC comment: it should be ‘for’ six to eight minutes. ‘During’ implies that something else is happening too. E.g. ‘During the reading of the poem, the poet knocked a glass of water off the table.’

4) ‘were all participating’ RLC comment: it should be ‘all participated’ , i.e. simple past instead of past continuous. The past continuous implies that something else interrupted ( a little like my explanation for ‘during’). ‘As I was walking up the stairs, the doorbell rang’

5) ‘In the front of an audience’: RLC comment: it should be ‘in front of an audience’. No definite article needed.

6) ‘Laughters’: RLC comment: ‘laughter’ doesn’t have a plural. Even if different people are laughing it is just ‘laughter’. A common mistake in this area is the word ‘furniture’, or ‘equipment’ – they are always in the singular even if there are many pieces of the items.

8) ‘could help you in approaching’ –  RLC comment: it should just be ‘to approach’

9) ‘why not to try’RLC comment: you don’t need a preposition after ‘why not’. It is just ‘why not try’