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Fear of Poetry


Updated August 27, 2008

Metrophobia, or the fear of poetry, is surprisingly common. Many people first develop this phobia in school, when overzealous teachers encourage them to rank poems according to artificial scales, break them down and search for esoteric meanings. Others simply feel that poetry is somehow “beyond” them, belonging only to the realm of the pretentious and highly educated.

This phobia is touched on in an unusual way at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 2008. In the presented scenario, a drama voice coach develops metrophobia along with a more general bibliophobia, or fear of books. Unable to perform her job, the woman seeks therapy. As the scene takes place at a Halloween event, the therapist’s solution is to force the woman to confront the haunting images of twisted and disturbing fairy tales.

The Phobia

Metrophobia can take several forms. Some sufferers fear all poetry, while others fear poems that deal with specific subject matter or are written in a specific style. If you have metrophobia, you may become extremely anxious in English classes. You may refuse to participate in reading out loud, or even start to skip classes. You may become uncomfortable when friends forward emails that contain poems. You may be reluctant to read unfamiliar books for fear of coming across an illustrative poem.

The Treatment

Who could forget the early scenes of the film Dead Poets Society, in which teacher John Keating leads his class in ripping out the pages of their poetry textbook that deal with the numerical grading of the written works? The liberation of removing the focus on “expert opinion” and narrow definitions of greatness, allowing creative work to be enjoyed for its own sake, becomes a hallmark of the film. Many of the students then go on to re-found the title society, learning to love and become inspired by poetry of all types.

For many metrophobia sufferers, this is all that is needed. Therapy may be largely focused on stripping away the negative thoughts and beliefs that sufferers experience by helping them to realize that poetry transcends meter and verse. Helping the sufferer to recognize the creative freedom that poetry provides to both the creator and the reader is a major goal of metrophobia therapy.

You may not become a poetry lover, but you can learn not to fear it. A good therapist will work with you to develop the treatment plan that is best for you.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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