I’m a fairly well read person. No, this post isn’t about what it means to be well read. Just take my word for it. I’ve read across many formats and genres, and many traditions and eras. I do have a weak spot though: poetry.
I remember learning exactly two poems in school. One was A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne and the other was To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell, and both are about dead white dudes who were feeling horny. Jeez, is it any wonder I wasn’t taken with it?
I’ve read three poetry collections so far this year, and I loved each of them. I’m not good at saying why, exactly, but I can tell you how I found my way in.
- Hear it spoken. I heard Ishion Hutchinson on the Shakespeare and Company Readings podcast earlier this year. Hearing poetry spoken aloud is the easiest way for me to get into it. I knew Hutchinson from his essay in the Treasure Island issue of The Happy Reader, and I loved his reading on the podcast. I borrowed the collection House of Lords and Commons from the library, and found it hard to break into – except for those poems I’d heard read aloud. Something about the pauses, the emphasis, and in this case, the accent, helped bring it all to life.
- Read a really detailed review. I decided to read this review of Jordan Abel’s collection Injun because it was on one of my favourite book blogs, and, I was intrigued by the title (of the collection, and of the review, “Lanterns Buried”.) In his review, Joseph Schreiber describes Abel’s methods in such a way that I had to read the poems. A casual reader wouldn’t find out the “how” of these poems till the end, but I’m glad I knew from the start. It gave me something to look for, something to hang on to. And it didn’t “spoil” me at all (can a poem be spoiled?) – I was still surprised by how the form came together and how it felt to read.
- Get to know the poet on Twitter. I picked up Marita Dachsel’s debut collection all things said & done at the library because something about the author’s name made me pause. Why does it seem so familiar, yet a little off? Right, because I’ve followed Marita on Twitter for years, but her name displays as “Marita loves cardigans” and her profile pic is the Log Lady from Twin Peaks, so that’s how I think of her. Anyway, I loved the collection, and probably would have done so even if she didn’t make sure to @ me whenever Franzen says something on the internet, which I do so appreciate (see below for a more generally relateable tweet.) The poems are sweet and sad and sometimes quite sexy! Plus, when you follow the poet on Twitter, you can DM them when one of the poems make you cry. I’m not telling which, go read them yourself and see which one strikes you.
So, I may not be well read when it comes to poetry, and I may not know how to review it properly, but damn it, I’m trying. Do you have any tips for a poetry novice?