No, it’s not fear of cities. It means fear of poetry, and I didn’t know the term until yesterday. Here metro- refers to meter, but the phobia certainly extends to free verse as well.
A poet friend had asked why I thought so many people are afraid of poetry, and a whole range of reasons occurred to me. People are afraid that a poem is full of “hidden meanings” they can’t see, written in a code they can’t crack. Some of it is cultural—there’s a reflexive aversion, in our deeply anti-intellectual country, to anything related to the arts and sciences, to any endeavor that requires study. I touched on this aversion, and some examples of how poets respond to it, in the July 14th posting “An Embarrassment of Poets,” but I’d like to focus on it directly here.
One technique for treating phobias is “flooding,” bombarding the person with exactly whatever it is that triggers the phobia. I don’t see this working with fear of spiders, but I like the idea of flooding someone with poems read aloud. Getting over fear of poetry begins with letting it in, listening to the music. I sometimes play poetry in Swedish or Greek or Polish in class, exactly so students can’t be distracted by the words. Then I might choose a poem in English and go around the room having each student read it aloud, listening to each reading deepen and unfold the meanings.
I think one reason people are stymied by poetry is that it looks as if it’s made of the same language we speak and write every day. When they can’t read it the way they would a newspaper or a novel, they feel defeated and turn away. At that point I would quote W. C. Williams, “a poem is a thing made of words” (and music). A poet isn’t saying something but making something to be listened to, walked around, looked at. A poem is an Alexander Calder mobile made of words and music. I’m reminded of a book by John Ciardi I read long ago—not What does a Poem Mean, but How does a Poem Mean.
I think metrophobia is learned, not inherent. You and I don’t suffer from it—why not? What are your thoughts about causes and treatments?