Walk Inside the Poem’s Room
I’ll start with a confession. I’ve never particularly liked poetry. I read everything quickly, skipping words and phrases that seem extraneous. I want to get right to the heart of a story, a description, an insight. I rarely linger. I rarely pause to reflect. This is odd coming from an author whose novels tend to be long and descriptive, but my attention span is short. My mind resembles a hummingbird.
I was not a literature major in college, nor did I study writing, so my acquaintance with poetry is meager. Then I had the good fortune to hear poet Billy Collins lecture at Chautauqua Institution several years ago. I was entranced.
Recently my husband told me about an idea for daily meditation. Read a poem, then find a word, a phrase, an idea to reflect on that day. Note he did not say analyze or memorize, nor beat to death? For many of us that’s all poetry has ever meant. Tear a poem apart, word by word, find its inner essence by destroying it. Agonize over the poet’s intent, then, in a sing-song voice, recite the words to a classroom of uninterested peers, stumbling with anxiety.
Billy Collins, who was our national poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, wants to change that. In conjunction with the Library of Congress, he helped create the Poetry 180 website referring to the 180 classroom days in most American high schools. Included on the website are a poem for each of those days, chosen with a high school audience in mind and chosen to be read out loud. These are accessible poems, deep and meaningful but not meant to be dissected. They are meant to be loved at first glance, caressed, absorbed. They are meant to change us and change our understanding of the world and the genre.
Every Sunday I’d like to explore a poem on this blog. For those of you who want to join us, I’ll be posting a link to a poem, either one from the Poetry 180 website, or perhaps one from The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor or another source. We won’t be analyzing, and unless you’re so taken with a poem you can’t resist, we won’t be memorizing. We’ll be reading and reflecting.
What’s your part? Just slow down a little and come along for the read. If you’d like to tell us what the poem means in your life, or what word or phrase you’ve chosen to reflect on, or where those reflections have taken you, we would be honored. But there are no demands or imperatives. The photo on today’s blog will appear each Sunday along with a poem’s link. Out of respect for copyright, I won’t be posting the poem of the day on the blog, but it will be just one easy click away. If I have something to add, I will. If you have something to add, please do.
Today’s poem is entitled Introduction to Poetry, and it’s by Billy Collins himself. Come “walk inside the poem’s room” with us today and every Sunday. You will be welcome.
In the middle of the night it occurred to me that getting to know people is much the same as the way Collins describes getting to know a poem. You can tie someone to a chair and beat the truth out of them–or some version distorted by that treatment–or you can “feel” and “experience” your way into their lives. And for a novelist, learning to know characters, can be done either way with contrasting results.
What a wonderfully marvelous idea!
This will be an interesting exploration for sure. I was thinking very much the same thing the other day – some family members that have “known me all my life – don’t really know me. Have I been that uninteresting or are we that much disconnected?
This might go some where, I have tried often to suppress.
Linda, thank you for sharing, and Dana, I’m glad it appeals to you. I think this can be very special.
Emilie, I think u hit the nail on the head. We really want to know what makes them tick, and if we don’t like it we just abandon them or walk away.There is a spark in everyone that is worth knowing, that spark comes from God. Thank you for opening our eyes to poetry. You really are an inspiration to all you touch through your writing. God bless.
I like Introduction to Poetry. My kind of poem! The only C I got in college was in Poetry. Didn’t help that it was an 8 am class, but I think I feel about poetry much the same way you do.
I hope figuring out what a poem or just a piece of one says to us, not what it’s “supposed” to say, will change that. BTW, Marna, I was in Europe! Right around the corner. (Well, okay, not so close, but still . . .)
I appreciate everybody’s kind words about this.
Wonderful idea….thank you for sharing with us!
“Introduction to Poetry+ …nice…makes you feel that reading a poem should be like looking at a painting..sort of like putting yourself inside the moment instead of overthinking the “meaning”..in other words, just enjoy the moment and let it take you there.
Mz. Richards, Isn’t that just a lovely idea? Sunday Poetry. Gives me one more reason to live…other than Harlequin romances, quarts of Ben & Jerry’s, and that ancient vibrator I keep meaning to replace…at least until the next season of ” Dexter” starts…still tho & yet I do have a pref for the dead poets over all…So nice of you to add this left perky little refreshing tidbit of a Sunday sinsation to the tail- end of our end of week vacation, tho, as an epitaph of sorts…Love Ur Work. Alice B.T.