Thursday, December 15, 2011

Enjoy Reading Poetry

Up until this point I've only used this blog to publicize work that I've had published.  I would like to take a turn now and start sharing ideas about writing, and start sharing the work of others when I find it stimulating.

Today I'd like to speak about reading poetry.  So many people are convinced that they can't possibly understand poetry.  It is true that often a poet is trying to communicate an idea, or even a feeling, that can't adequately be expressed in simple prose.  When this is the case, trying to paraphrase a poem often strips all the magic out of it.

You probably know Frances Mayes, although you may not recognize her name.  She is the author of "Under the Tuscan Sun" a novel that was made into a movie some years back.  Ms. Mayes was an English Professor at San Francisco State University and also wrote a book titled, The Discovery of Poetry.

In her book we are told that Americans are '...overtrained to read for factual information." We are also described as overly pragmatic about our reading. According to Ms. Mayes we are also particularly time-conscious.

She goes on to suggest that "The most important aspect of reading any poem is extensive reading - the more the better - of poems of all kinds, and the best reader is the one most open to the poem on the page."

The next time you find a poem you might describe as obtuse, perhaps you could set it aside and come back to it when you have more time.  Try to approach it as a puzzle, or a game, like a message sent to you in code, or maybe not necessarily in code, but using words that have a secondary meaning between you and the poet.  Ignore the conventional denotations and concentrate on other possibilities.

If there are words you don't know, do look them up.  If there are phrases that sound familiar, do try them in a search engine.  You may find that a familiar name is a character from a book, play or movie.  You may find a line has been used as an allusion back to the work it originally came from, possibly even another well known poem.

Don't be discouraged if the piece doesn't speak to you right away.  If there is something about the poem that attracts you to it, come back to it again some time.  Often our reading brings us to a key that's necessary to understand things we've read before but didn't understand fully at that time.