Some Questions and Comments Regarding Poetry

Dear Readers,

I was going to try to sum up my year in poetry reading in a rather long post with lots of quotations and best lines, but it’s been rather an eventful week around here (capped off by my husband’s grandmother’s near-miraculous recovery from severe hypothermia), and so I will be brief.

Comments and Questions:

  1. Reading poetry is a delight that I wish were more widespread.
  2. Fellow book bloggers: The vast majority of blog posts are about fiction and nonfiction, not poetry (mine included, if we’re talking about reviews and not the poem-of-the-week posts). Why is that? What would make reading poetry—say, five collections a year if you typically read about 75-125 books a year—appealing to you?
  3. Where do you, dear readers, read about poetry? Or, when you pick up a book of poems, what’s the impetus behind the choice?
  4. If you would like to read more poetry and you’re a regular around here, what can I do, or do better, to help?

And for the new year, I recommend a poem (of course): the suitably titled “New Year’s Poem” by the late Canadian poet Margaret Avison. It’s jeweled with lovely images, and the description of the party puts me in mind of a winter version of Mrs. Dalloway’s (eventually, everything comes back to Mrs. Dalloway).

Happy New Year, Dear Readers!

13 thoughts on “Some Questions and Comments Regarding Poetry

  1. 1. Lovely poem (by a Canadian poet I have never heard of)!
    2. The main reason I don’t read collections of poetry is because I prefer to read longer stories. Also the reason I read few story collections, but poetry is even shorter than the stories. I don’t have anything against poetry, I just prefer other forms of reading.
    3. If I read poetry it would only be one at a time, like on your blog posts, or at night before going to sleep. One of the reasons I love your poetry posts is because it exposes me to poems I wouldn’t otherwise find myself.
    4. My sister likes to read poems, so I bought her a collection for Christmas, but I was scared I wouldn’t know what was good. In the end, she was very happy with it – she had already read one or two of his others and liked them a lot. (I went with Nova Scotian poet, George Elliott Clarke, whose novel I read last year – his collection ‘Blue’.)
    5. I do find poets write wonderful novels. Is this just me?
    6. A story you might like: A friend of mine who makes pottery here in town has a daughter who supports herself by setting up on street corners with her typewriter and writing poems for people off-the-cuff. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your thoughts, Naomi! (I am going to look up George Elliott Clarke.) I agree that poets make wonderful novelists (Michael Ondaajte leaps immediately to mind, and Margaret Atwood–two more Canadians!), and I do love that story about your friend’s daughter!

  2. I don’t actually know much about poetry. I’ve read the assigned poems in anthologies, and I LOVED reading Ariel by Plath last year (not assigned!), but I don’t tend to read large collections. Leaves of Grass is on my Classics Club list. I’ve read a full collection by Edna St. Vincent Millay. That’s about it. Lots of scattered single poems, but no collections. Oh, I forgot! I also read Shakespeare’s complete sonnets. I LOVE THOSE. That’s my favorite of his works, & I actually didn’t feel restless reading them. I tried to read Emily Dickinson’s poems & loved them, but I stopped. I tried to read a Yeats collection & loved it but stopped. I bought a collection of 100 classic poems and loved them but stopped. It’s my attention span. I just lose interest because it’s nice but hard to stick with it.

    My favorite poets are Keats, Yeats, Plath, Whitman (I’ve read nearly half of Leaves of Grass), and Dickinson. I encountered them all because I forced myself to try poetry. I’ve actually done my best with poems (excluding the assigned ones), by signing up for a poem a day emails. But even those trailed off because I stopped making time every day to read them.

    Which is a shame now that I think about it, for I do like poetry.

    What could you do? No idea! If there was a one poem a day readalong I might join, except I’m pretty booked for 2016, & I’ll be in college, so the truth is, that would make it more tempting, but I probably wouldn’t join. I’d just WANT to join & tell myself I might try next year. And too, I’d be picky about the commitment & only want to read my own collection, & not something you assign. So all of that is to say — maybe an event like the Classics Club event on literature by women? We all check in every month with you, so there’s a place to gather, but we get to select our own poets? Ha! I have the idea, but again, I would probably not join until 2017. So there is my very unhelpful advice: a yearlong poetry celebration which you host which offers everyone a lot of flexibility & involves some sort of Twitter hashtag so we can check out everyone’s accomplishments and poets and become poetry lovers over a year and it will be excellent. If only I had time. 😉

    Not sure if any of this helps. One person’s take!

    • All of this helps, Jillian! I love Millay and Shakespeare too, and I have the same difficulty with long collections–I have maybe 30 collected works sitting on the shelf that I leaf through, but never sit down to read the whole of. I find the smaller collections (not even selected poems, just individual books) much more manageable, though “selected poem” books are very useful for getting the flavor of a poet’s career and style. But then even slim collections–the usual 40- to 70-page range can be daunting if the poems are particularly dense or elliptical.

      2016 is the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, so maybe I should put together a little something to celebrate; I think you’re right that a reading challenge is often too much work for most people, but maybe asking people to write about a favorite poem during April (National Poetry Month in the U.S.?)?

      Thank you for writing!

  3. At the moment this is my sole source of new poetry, because I prefer to spend my reading time and budget reading other things. But I very much enjoy the things I find via your blog.

    In answer to what you might do, I have noticed that when you post full poems here I read them (even if I already know them), but I rarely click through to read linked poems. I assume the difference is related to copyright. But when you post an excerpt from linked poems, I am more likely to click to read the rest.

    • I’m flattered and honored!

      You are absolutely right that it has to do with copyright; as the child of lawyers and a writer myself, I’m hypersensitive about posting even excerpts. But I will take your suggestion to heart and do better about posting lines!

      I hope you’re having a wonderful visit home!

  4. I think the bias against poetry is similar to the bias against short stories – the usual form (collections by a single author, or anthologies) don’t satisfy in the same way a novel does. Reading a novel means you’ve finished something, and you can talk to people about it. You can count it in your Goodreads challenge. If you read a poetry collection, can you talk about that collection in a cohesive way? Or an anthology? When I try to review short story collections, I get bogged down in reviewing individual stories, and find it hard to say something about the collection as a whole.

    I recently read a unqiue short story collection (an advent calendar, and it was by far my favourite short story reading experience, because a bunch of people were reading the same story at once, and we could talk about specific stories, rather than a bunch of stories.

    Finally, poems are harder to talk about because they don’t (always) have a plot to hang your observations on.

    So – I think some way of building community would be the best way to get people to read more poems. The short story advent calendar did a great job of this (check #ssac2015 on twitter.)

    • Thanks Laura! I completely agree that it’s really hard, comparatively, to review a poetry collection, even harder (for me) than reviewing a short story collection because of the plot issue. And also I think most book bloggers and readers have a common vocabulary for talking about prose, but not everyone has the same frame of reference when it comes to poetry.

      I’m going to think about how to build community; I feel like readalongs are sort of hit and miss . . .

  5. 2. I find poetry much harder to read than fiction, probably because I’m lazy and have to think more about it. I also like storytelling, so like fiction, but the poems I prefer are more impressionistic than storytelling, so that’s odd.
    3. I read about poetry on your blog. I have been trying to read more poetry, as you know, and some of it I have enjoyed.
    4. You have given me some ideas of people to read, which has helped. I also enjoy your Tuesday poetry posts and have written down the names of some of those poets. Do you think a poetry challenge would help?

      • Hmmm, you could do something like Classics Club on a smaller scale–have people post a short list of poetry collections to read and then pick a number every few months. Or, you could challenge people to set themselves a number of collections to read by the end of the year. Or, you could even sneak in by getting people to read individual poems by topic, for example, or poems by a list of specific authors.

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