Monday, October 02, 2006


The stars have aligned and poetry is everywhere. Dorothy has a great post today about poetry. But even before that, I was thinking about it. I've somehow managed to up my annual poetry book quotient from an average of one per year to two so far this year and I am well on my way to three. Plus, since my Bookman and I moved all of our poetry books upstairs, I've dipped into more of them than I ever have before. Over the weekend I read a short interview with Donald Hall in which he was asked "what do you make of the idea that more people write poetry than read it?" His response? "Well, that's not true." He goes on to talk about the growing number of people who show up for poetry readings. There are more people who attend than buy the book, but this strikes me as very exciting. To me, poetry has always been something that should be read aloud. Poetry is meant for the ear, and when I read poetry to myself I always hear it even if I am not speaking it. And usually if I try to read it out like I hear it in my head I fail miserably at it, stumbling over words and breathing in the wrong places. But listening to someone who is a good reader, the poet herself perhaps, is always exciting. So many more nuances are added and it makes the poem more meaningful. And then, while reading Michael Dirda's Book by Book I came upon a little essay "Five Propositions about Poetry." Here is proposition number four:

Nearly everyone can come up with good explanations for why they don't keep up with contemporary poetry, but the main one is simply that reading strange and unfamiliar poems sounds a lot like schoolwork. The language often seems so...high-pitched and bizarre or just plain hard to understand. In fact, the best way to enjoy contemporary verse is simply to read it as though you were dipping into a magazine, listening to a news report, overhearing a conversation. Don't make it a big deal, simply thrill to the words or story. As the critic Marvin Murdrick once proclaimed: "You don't read for understanding, you read for excitement. Understanding is a product of excitement." Later on, you can return to the poems that speak most strongly to you and make them a part of your life.
And so I was inspired to pick up Teahouse of the Almighty by Patricia Smith which has been languishing by my bedside. I was just going to read one poem. And that turned into reading just one more. And then maybe another one would be good. Until I had read about a dozen and felt inexplicably happy (inexplicably because the poems aren't generally happy). One of my favorite poems of the evening was "Hallelujah with Your Name," and here is a small piece of it that contributed to my happiness:
Slow dancing is the way sin looks when you hose it down and set it upright, and all the time it is the considering of further things, the music being incidental, it might as well not be there. You can slow dance to a dollop of chocolate, a wrinkled shred of silk, the hot static of a child's hair being brushed. Drag slow on top of an angry lover's silence, along the jittery borders of a rain ring, on the cluttered sidewalk outside wherever you are. You can dance to the arcing brows of folks wondering why you have stopped to dance. Under the thinnest pretense, you can demand touch. Without considering consequence, you can sign your body over.
Gorgeous, yes? The article that Dorothy discusses in her post mentions the pervading fear people have of poetry. I felt that fear in high school and through most of college until I had a teacher that changed poetry from a puzzle to be solved into an experience. She returned to me the pleasure I felt when reading poetry when I didn't know poetry was supposed to be hard; the sounds and textures of the words bumping up against each other, not always making sense but always creating their own little shimmer of magic. I can't tell you what that professor did that was any different than teachers before her. Maybe it was a combination of things. Maybe it was something she did that matched up to a willingness on my part to be open to what poetry had to offer. Whatever it was, I am grateful for it.