Don’t Read Poetry

I am a poet. When I forget that, I wander off into thickets of entropy. I think about poetry, often and a lot, and I think maybe you should not read it. I mean you should do something else with it. Because reading poetry can lead to thickets of attempted comprehension, and poetry isn’t about comprehension. Poetry isn’t just about top to bottom, left to right. Metaphor is not the same as enigma or secret code. It’s certainly not about that Robert Caro quote perhaps you know, “The only thing that matters is on the page.” That’s true, but it means something else.

The essential thing that makes poetry work, if and when it does, is not on the page at all. It’s in the reader’s mind. It’s waiting in the mind for a poem to appear, or a phrase of music, or a smell of food cooking, or a moment’s image of people from a car window. It’s not an understanding, it’s a recognition, a resonance. It is at best a meeting of minds across time and space.

“I think there is a general misconception that you write poems because you “have something to say.” I think, actually, that you write poems because you have something echoing around in the bone-dome of your skull that you cannot say. Poetry allows us to hold many related tangential notions in very close orbit around each other at the same time. The “unsayable” thing at the center of the poem becomes visible to the poet and reader in the same way that dark matter becomes visible to the astrophysicist. You can’t see it, but by measure of its effect on the visible, it can become so precise a silhouette you can almost know it.”– Rebecca Lindenberg

So I suggest do you not read poetry. Listen to it. Pick it up and hold it like something that belonged to someone you love, or something they made for you, and run your hand over it. If you can’t do that, swallow it hole and let it swim around inside you like a fish.
Whatever you do, never ask a poet what a poem means. It means the taste of that cake your mother made for your birthday. It means the cold fog rolling in.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Read Poetry

  1. I enjoy many types of poetry. Poems that evoke the unsayable, even the unthinkable, or just a feeling that can’t be put into words. These I like to read aloud in my head, letting them find their own voice. I also like poetry that plays with language cleverly, like Lewis Carroll, and the musical quality of Poe and Coleridge. These I like best spoken. And I enjoy poems that allude to other works, reinterpreting them. I think what I like best is that poetry can be whatever you want it to be.

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