3.02.2011

Ritual: Poetry

I have this book, Good Poems, a collection from Garrison Keillor. He compiled a collection of more than 300 poems of every type and subject, written by the greats - Shakespeare, Donne, Yeats, Dickinson, Whitman, Frost, Hughes - and other lesser known poets.

I first discovered the book when I was a page at my local library. When I was bored during my shift, I'd sneak into the poetry section, grab this book and read it where the librarians couldn't see me from the front desk.

I loved it so much that I bought it, and now, every once in awhile I pull it from my shelf, entwine myself in a blanket, and read and read and read.
Never have I started at the beginning of the book and worked my way to the end, a phenomenon I only just realized the other day. I always find myself opening to a random page and reading it. Backwards. If I open to page 342, I work my way back through the book: 341, 340, 339... I have no idea why.

And I don't read it silently, and I don't read a poem only once. I often find myself reading it aloud, many times over. The second, third, or even fourth time takes me deeper and deeper into the poem until its rhythm becomes ingrained in me, like a tidal wave or the melody of a song, or the steady tick of a clock.

And when I reflect on each word - its meaning, its placement, the subsequent punctuation - I find a clue, a piece of the puzzle that reveals a little more about the writer's thoughts and feelings, their stream of consciousness.

Somehow this ritual, the book between my hands, the blanket cloaked around me, the sound of my own voice stumbling over the rhythm like waves over rocks until I am finally immersed in it like a river tide, feels more right and real to me than prose does right now.

One of my favorites:

A Light Left On
by May Sarton

In the evening we came back
Into our yellow room,
For a moment taken aback
To find the light left on,
Falling on silent flowers,
Table, book, empty chair
While we had gone elsewhere,
Had been away for hours.

When we came home together,
We found the inside weather.
All of our love unended
The quiet light demanded,
And we gave, in a look
At yellow walls and open book.
The deepest worlds we share
And do not talk about
But have to have, was there,
And by that light found out.


What are your favorite poems or poetry sources? Do you have a hard time reading poetry? Do you have a method for reading it that helps you understand it better? Do you enjoy another artistic medium better - music, visual arts, prose? What inspires you?

2 comments:

Ellen Grant said...

This might mean we will never be friends, but I could never really get into poetry. Maybe I just haven't experienced it well on my own (without the help of a highschool english teacher!). Anyway, I love to read and write, and I am also working on perfecting my own abilities, in my own way. Maybe I should pick up the book you suggested and work on understanding that poetic art!

Bethany said...

Ha! No worries, Ellen. That's kind of why I wrote this post. I can't get enough of it right now, but it seems like everyone I talk to has trouble with reading poetry. I haven't always loved poetry, but my method for getting into it has developed over time through lit classes I've taken, and I thought I'd share it in hopes that it might inspire people. The thing I love about the book is the variety that Keillor offers - you might find a style or poet you can get into!

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