ILB, How Do You Read Poetry?

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I've had a love for poetry all my life, but I go in & out of reading it -- sometimes just whatever happens to get into my field of vision, a New Yorker poem or whatever, and then I'll dive into the books. I think for ages I didn't read books of poetry as books most of the time, esp with the big names -- you get the Collected, you dip in and out -- but of late I find that if I'm going to bother at all, I'll get the most if I dive in entirely and make whatever poetry I'm reading the main course -- and often, if I'm just coming off some prose, it'll take twenty to thirty pages before I've sort of adjusted my "ear," the way I'm reading and hearing, to find the register.

I find this incredibly rewarding when I stick to it -- it adds a depth to my reading that it lacks otherwise, a feeling of an expanded view. What about you?

J Edgar Noothgrush (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Thursday, 8 December 2022 16:39 (one month ago) link

I can't handle a collected volume -- I'll take a selected or, better, an individual volume. Obv for less fecund writers like Eliot and Clampitt the collected slips easily into the bookshelf.

I've also loved and memorized it all my life but have rarely made it the "main course." I did spent a lot of time, thanks to table, with Prynne last summer.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 8 December 2022 16:49 (one month ago) link

I'm much more of a prose person so I tend to dip into poetry rather than spending large amounts of time with it. There's definitely merit to the idea of taking time to adjust one's ear to poetry, though, and maybe I should try that deeper dive. I think after a while I just accepted that I'll always be a poetry dilettante.

emil.y, Thursday, 8 December 2022 18:15 (one month ago) link

Sad to say, although my shelves are full of poetry my reading of poetry has slowed to a trickle for several years now. It takes a quiet heart to sit with good poems and that has been lacking for some time. Perhaps I can revive the habit in the next year or so.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Thursday, 8 December 2022 19:06 (one month ago) link

don't think I've ever understood or enjoyed any poem I've ever read and therefore haven't read any poetry at all since I was 17.

oscar bravo, Thursday, 8 December 2022 20:40 (one month ago) link

I think "poetry dilettante" is not such a bad thing -- poetry has its place, but that place is usually only central for the poet! for me, when I do make the time for it, I often go through a process of resistance -- maybe I'll read a poem that draws me in, and then ten pages later I'll be thinking, this is really a lot, none of it ever really gives me the resolution of big sturdy paragraphs; but if I stick with it over a few days, it opens up. that's what I like about poetry, and maybe about poets -- they make a very firm demand that what they're doing be allowed enough space, enough attention, for the magic to happen.

J Edgar Noothgrush (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Thursday, 8 December 2022 21:01 (one month ago) link

We're in a mind-meld today, Joan. Yet I don't have that trouble with old favorites from Donne and Keats to Stevens and Kay Ryan.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 8 December 2022 21:03 (one month ago) link

yes -- I think there's a few things in play -- the stuff we absorb early on forms a connection, so we can get inside it easier -- but also, even with Stevens, the most difficult of those, the desire to communicate is high. after the 60s that's a less present element in a lot of poetry. I'm reading Anna Akhmatova right now -- given how opaque her peers could be, she's incredibly lucid, I really have to slow down to absorb such stark images & scenes. it's glorious

J Edgar Noothgrush (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Thursday, 8 December 2022 21:12 (one month ago) link

Standing up, stoned

No I do what you do Joan, I tend to take a volume, whether it's a collected or selected, and follow the Mad Hatter's advice to start at the beginning and read in order. Only time I won't do this is if there's a whole boatload of juvenilia barring access to the good stuff or something. Or of there are drafts at the end, as there are in the Faber Emily Dickinson collected, I left most of those, as they were variations on what had appeared earlier, though I intend to go back to them. But I agree about attuning your ear to the poet's style and development, it's exciting to follow those changes. I'm doing this with William Carlos Williams Collected Earlier Poems right now, and this deep dive following the chronology is very satisfying.

glumdalclitch, Thursday, 8 December 2022 21:22 (one month ago) link

I'm actually reading two books of poetry right now. Dante's "Inferno" in the Robert Pinsky translation, and "The Simple Truth" by Philip Levine. As one might expect, I'm reading the first straight through, as one would read a novel, which is only slightly hindered by the fact that it tends to put me to sleep, perhaps partly a function of the steady rhythmic structure. The second I'm also reading straight through, but at a slower pace, usually a poem or two at a time.

o. nate, Friday, 9 December 2022 16:56 (one month ago) link

Ooh that's my favorite Levine volume.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 9 December 2022 17:42 (one month ago) link

Yeah, it's great. I'm savoring it slowly.

o. nate, Friday, 9 December 2022 18:49 (one month ago) link

I'm reading Anna Akhmatova right now -- given how opaque her peers could be, she's incredibly lucid, I really have to slow down to absorb such stark images & scenes. it's glorious
I was struck by how well Iris DeMent seems to read her and pass it along, on The Trackless Woods.

dow, Friday, 9 December 2022 19:45 (one month ago) link

I struggle with Collecteds because often a single poem is enough to see me through a few days, perhaps even weeks and months (I find John Ashberry like this, for instance); returning to a collection, I just meet resistance.

I'm all for single volumes but sourcing them can be tricky and expensive. I have relied on serendipity in most cases - recommendations, stuff I've found in charity shops and secondhand bookshops.

I have the feeling I'll take the question in the OP to my grave, tbh.

Shard-borne Beatles with their drowsy hums (Chinaski), Friday, 9 December 2022 19:55 (one month ago) link

I read Jay Griffiths's *Tristimania* a few years back and in there she talks about preparing to walk a section of the Camino de Santiago. I don't have the book to hand but a good friend put together a personalised book, a selection of their favourite poems to read along the way. I want someone to make me one.

Shard-borne Beatles with their drowsy hums (Chinaski), Friday, 9 December 2022 19:58 (one month ago) link

often a single poem is enough to see me through a few days, perhaps even weeks and months
That sounds great!

dow, Friday, 9 December 2022 20:03 (one month ago) link

I read 'The Other Tradition' from Houseboat Days more than a year ago and still feel like I can't read any more Ashbery until this one has finished rewiring my brain.

Shard-borne Beatles with their drowsy hums (Chinaski), Friday, 9 December 2022 20:10 (one month ago) link

Belated, confused and lazy poetry reader here - I’ve never been interested or felt like making the effort. But I recently enjoyed Fiona Benson’s Vertigo and Ghost, and Emily Wilson’s recent Odyssey translation, and obviously like everyone else I picked up some WCW after watching Paterson. Last week I bought a secondhand book of Peake’s nonsense poetry but only because the illustrations were so pretty. I remember reading a lot of of H.D. in college. Help!

I think the problem is I’ve come to see reading as a speedy goals-based exercise (read everything before I die!) and it’s hard to slow down, decipher, reread.

Chuck_Tatum, Saturday, 10 December 2022 00:04 (one month ago) link

Also a sense of shame that I might be a wee bit middlebrow (enjoying Clive James poems etc)

Chuck_Tatum, Saturday, 10 December 2022 00:05 (one month ago) link

If so, it's ok. mark s says the Beatles are middlebrow.

dow, Saturday, 10 December 2022 05:46 (one month ago) link


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