Since April was National Poetry Month, most of us picked up the first poetry collection we’ve read in a long time. Why don’t we read more of it? What makes it so intimidating? What have we loved in the past? I mean, I can think of plenty of poets we read in school who I adored, so why am I such a chicken about reading more poetry?
I think you said it right there: “in school”. Even with the poets I loved, and I went through a serious phase with Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, it always felt like I needed the guidance of a teacher first.
I can see the needing a teacher part, but there is also the connotation of school equating with “work”. As an English major in college I feel as if I read enough poetry to last the rest of my life. It was beautiful and I loved it but it was enough to show me that I prefer prose. Which is not to say that I don’t love everything Mary Oliver writes, I just don’t seek it out.
I think that poetry takes a different mindset and reading style than those needed for reading novels, non-fiction, or even essays. I know for myself I read so. many. things that aren’t poetry that it’s really really hard to reset my mind to slow down and to read the poetry properly. Fast readers = bad poetry readers.
I’m with you. I’m a fast reader but appreciate prose that forces me to slow down. Poetry goes beyond even that to the the level of word which is not easy to do. We talked last week about how a weak ending could derail a book, but in poetry it could be one word that doesn’t work.
That theory about fast readers being bad poetry readers might be a thing. I usually read in a lickety-split manner. Slowing down is difficult for me. Also, reading poetry in school turned me off of the genre. I was taught that you have to dig for the deeper meaning, that the words mean more than the words. That might be true but it sure made me feel as if it was all over my head. It makes me think of that blue curtain meme:
Totally agree on the need to slow down. So much so that I’ve found I enjoy poetry most when it’s read to me (as long as it’s not read in “poetry voice”). The Button Poetry channel on YouTube is pretty incredible and I’ve listened to poems like Lily Myers’ “Shrinking Woman” and Danez Smith’s “Not an Elegy for Mike Brown” over and over again. They made me realize what I’d been missing out on by tossing poetry aside.
Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, which we’re discussing on Wednesday, was one of the first collections I read in years. I’m not sure how it compares to the lot of what’s out there now, but it definitely made me more willing to start picking up poetry on my own.
As I started reading Citizen was nervous.I thought I wouldn’t get it. As I mentioned above, poetry intimidates me. Citizen has certainly changed my perception. I got it. I felt it.
Citizen is harder and easier than I expected it to be. On one hand it’s not a whole lot like classic poetry to me—it feels more like mini-short stories, which doesn’t raise the same problems that I talked about above. On the other hand, the subject matter really punches you in the gut, and that’s probably enhanced by the brevity of the poems (or ‘stories’ as I choose to see them).
I don’t know if others feel this way, but there’s a part of me that is afraid I don’t have the “qualifications” to review poetry “properly.” I’m a little more apt to read it than discuss it. But does poetry need to be reviewed in a studious way, or can it be a personal response to the art form?
I think that I see what you mean here, but just like I said above the same way you need a different mindset for reading poetry I think it takes a completely different type of review. I’m not sure what that format is—but it’s definitely not the traditional review form. I almost feel like poetry isn’t meant to be reviewed—it’s meant to be discussed.
I read two poetry collections last year that I absolutely loved and wanted to shout about endlessly, but didn’t review them on my blog. Even though I don’t necessarily feel qualified to write about the novels I read, I’ve read enough to know how to break something down. I feel like poetry is a whole other world. I know enough to enjoy it and definitely feel something from it, but have no idea how to talk about it in a way that feels adequate.
I hate to be the crass one in the group but even if I did read poetry I’m not sure I would review it because it doesn’t come up as something readers want to hear more about. It’s a very small audience. I do think it would make for an interesting book club session.
This is a good point, I read a Margaret Atwood poetry collection last year (both for National Poetry Month and for my Margaret Atwood project) and instead of trying to review the whole collection I posted one of the poems that really spoke to me and tried to get a conversation going on it—it never really took off.
Maybe seeing more posts from people enthusiastic about poetry would encourage others to read it? Knock down some preconceived ideas?
Again, let me mention that we’ve been taught to be intimidated by poetry. It’s too bad that many of us feel we can’t enjoy reading or talking about it without thinking that we’re inadequate to do so. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like a giant poser when I even try. How can I get over that? Help!
So, how do you feel about reading poetry? Why do you think so many readers avoid it? Have you found a way to read or talk about poetry that works for you?