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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

To Read Poetry Prop'ly

is much easier than we like to think...

I have a theory that's starting to sound pretty good. I think poetry is important because the poetic basis of understanding the universe is our natural basis for understanding the universe.
Think about it: if you're in love, or like, really scared you would never, accurately, say "I'm experiencing significant tachycardia...".
Instead, we ALMOST ALWAYS say something like "Holy shit...!! My heart's pounding like a jackhammer!!!"

So I'm frustrated when people trivialize poetry or when they're just ignorant of it, and of how great it is.
And it's my pleasure here to set out on my own initiative (that's 4, in case you're wondering) a few precepts for evaluating and understanding poetry.

READING POETRY


Reading poetry is fun and energizing and relaxing. Reading poetry that's not a good fit for one's reading taste is boring, tedious, futile and can even feel personally insulting.
So read a poem. If you like it, try finding something else by that author. Or pick up one of those anthologies, preferably one that spans a few hundred years, for the variety pak & find out what you REALLY like! I can highly recommend the Oxford Book of Canadian Verse (ed. Margaret Atwood) and I also have a Book of Contemporary American Poetry, as well as Modern Poetry from some series which is called English Masterpieces.
Any amount of poems put in a row will probably be a little hit-or-miss for the enjoyment factor. This is about the only time I approve of dog-earing books!! (The corner of my Canadian anthology is starting to look a bit furry.)
Here's how to read a more challenging-seeming poem that you think you will like. Some people seem to think that poetry is serious and work. It's not. Poetry is freedom. You just read it. You remember this bit and forget that bit and at the end you should feel like a million bucks. Don't try to explicate it. Don't try to keep track of what this or that means in case there's some clever meaning in it you'd feel like a fool for missing. DON'T FEEL PRESSURE.
Poetry is very emotional writing and uses lots of figures and parts of speech, sometimes deliberately subversively, to a not-necessarily-plotted tune. Seriously, poetry does not hinge on a proper narrative/system of causality. And with the richness of imagery and peripheral meaning available, it should certainly not hinge on "getting all the jokes" or "cracking the code."
Just let her wash over you like a huge wave. The impression you are left with when you're done is the most important thing to try and work with. A good poet who writes how you like, should go beyond the airhead, "zen" feeling of "we're done" and set you up with something whole and striking, to take away with you.

2 comments:

  1. Great advice1
    Although, if I could add a bit of my own "wisdom";
    Reading verse out loud, even as a whisper, can complete and enhance poetry. This lets you hear the words, filling your senses with them. Over time, those dog-eared pages resound with feelings and images. To this day I cannot read certain E.A. Poe poems silently, they feel wrong silent.

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  2. yeah i hear that
    good point!!!!!!
    often language will click into place then

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