Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Little Experiment in Reading Poetry. . . .

Do any of you read poetry? Why, or why not? Would you like to read more?

I'm asking because I think I'm going to try a little experiment here, if you don't mind. A much more manageable experiment than last year's Ferrante ReadAlong, but one that will depend just as much on your participation (even if that participation is simply a quiet reading in the background, no comments required).

Recently, on Instagram, I was inspired to join a  #handlettering Daily Challenge. When I began, I had visions of developing beautiful hand-written alphabets, not calligraphy, no, but something that would make my words on a page bloom with colour and depth and aesthetic appeal beyond their content. I borrowed books from the library, practised with different writing instruments, and quite quickly discovered that the hand-lettering I had in mind demanded far more discipline than I am ready to give.

However, in the course of experimenting, I tried loosening up a bit by copying out a few poems -- I used ruler and pencil to trace straight lines across blank pages, and I used my good pen to write as I spoke the words of each poem aloud. What a satisfying practice this turned out to be, a very meditative way to experience a poem from the inside out.  Also gratifying was that a few of my "poetry in social media" friends also picked up the practice, and we've been enjoying reading each other's choices in their own handwriting.

Given how long it takes to copy out a poem by hand, and how connected I become with each poem through that act -- and also given that I seem to have trouble posting regularly here on my Reading Blog, where there's a wonderful community I love interacting with -- I thought perhaps I could build even more on this engagement with a poem. And that's where my next experiment comes in.

What I thought I'd try is posting a photograph of My Handwritten Copy of a Poem -- and ask you to read it and to leave a comment about something you observe in the poem -- a detail you like, a puzzle you can't solve on your own, an image that sticks, a word you love as the poet has used it -- anything.  I don't think we need to jump to "interpreting" the poem at the moment -- when I've taught poetry in the past (in countless university English classes), I generally try to delay the push for meaning until we've worked out what the poem denotes at its most obvious surface: Here, for example, that might just be trying to sort out who the speaker is, and who is being addressed, and in what form, why, as well as clarifying or determining some of the references (geographical and historical -- the proper nouns, for example). Then we'd usually spend some time enjoying, playing with, the sensory immediate - the sound and rhythm of the words, the patterns that begin to emerge in imagery or in structure.

But I'm happy with any comment you'd care to leave, taking our collective enjoyment and understanding of the poem in whichever direction you choose.  I'm going to change the commenting set-up so that your comments will not appear immediately -- My experiment involves allowing you to develop your own response to the poem without being unduly influenced by what others say about it, at least not for this first round. We'll see if that works, or not. . .

So I'm waiting. . . at the very least, I'd love to know if you read the poem. I'll share any comments in a few days and perhaps say a bit about the poet and about why I chose this poem and how I read it....

*by the way, given that the speaker in the poem refers to "the poem on page 24," you might like to know that the poem does appear on page 24 of the collection.  

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