Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Poetry for everyone, Pt. I

April is National Poetry Month so it seemed appropriate to admit that reading poetry has always been a struggle for me. I think I have at last determined why I have a hard time with poems: I am a fast reader. I've always read a lot but am more of a skimmer than deep reader. And poetry is not to be skimmed. It is to be savored and experienced.

I have always felt that there is a lot to learn from poetry. I once read a comment from author Linda Sue Park about how writers should be readers of poetry. Still, I was intimidated. The first poem I remember really liking was Sick from Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings along with his poem Hug O'War. Another poem I have in school papers is John Donne's A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning. I'm sure this became a favorite in high school when my friends and I wrote reams of bad poetry reflecting the turmoils of teenage years.

In college there were the usual suspects - The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot or Elizabeth Barrett Browning's How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Otherwise, few poems caught my attention. They were simply too much work; too hard to understand and I felt undereducated for not "getting" the meaning of a poem.

Later, I pressed on determined to "get" poetry. I purchased The Classic Hundred Poems edited by William Harmon. I do love this book. I love the poems in this book. There is a reason these poems are the all-time favorites. And I like the notes at the end of each poem that help explain it. I also enjoy my little book, The Sonnets: Poems of Love by William Shakespeare.

I attempted a Barnes and Noble online poetry class several years back. The reference for the class was The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland. This is a great book for examples of types of poems.

But the book that helped me get over the mysticism of poetry was The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Frances Mayes. Yes, the same Frances Mayes who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun. This book, The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems, will open your eyes to the joys of poetry. In the prologue of this book, aptly called Invitation, I discovered why to read poetry. As Mayes says, "...reading a fine poem makes me rediscover the bright freshness of creation." And for writers, she says that poetry is the language art: "Learning to see precisely how words work pulls you closer to what you want to write..." The rest of the book is a how-to - how to read a poem and what to look for, including the practice of paraphrasing, and the useful advice to not bring an overly serious mind-set nor to "fear that complex meanings must be wrung from the poem like water out of a dishrag."

If you've ever struggled with poetry, The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems is the book to get.

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