I am a lazy poetry reader. If I am not grabbed by something in a poem, or if I get into it and get lost in the maze of thoughts or images, I give up. I don't work to figure out what's going on. I miss a lot of very fine poetry this way. To correct this I am taking a course called "Four Contemporary Poets" this semester at the Academy for Lifelong Learning, the same organization where I'm teaching again my writing course, "Writing with the Whole Brain." The poets we are studying, 3 sessions each, are Stanley Kunitz [easy for me to understand and read and much loved by myself and the entire class] who was the first poet. As of today we are reading and talking about Mark Doty who I'd read a bit but not been drawn to. Then will come Jane Hirshfield, who I have not read, and then Richard Wilbur who has been beyond my abilities or tolerance for hard work.
We are reading selections from the book in the picture, Fire on Fire. The three or four poems we discussed today were a revelation to me. I read them and understood parts of them but didn't really try to get more than was on the surface. But much, as in all good poetry, is in layers from the surface to considerable depth. I find an appreciation of beauty, whether a young whale or a marsh or even cheap jewelry that is wonderfully expressed. He is not a "nature" poet and yet he is because he is aware of the world around him and how it can teach him and, as in "The Visitation" where he watches a whale, correct his faulty personal intellectual and emotional compass.
As I listen to people in the class finding meanings I hadn't bothered looking for, I admire poetry more and more. I have never thought I could write poetry although occasionally I write things that look like poetry on the page, and I know that, indeed, I will never write poetry. That's okay. I don't aspire to be a poet. But I do aspire to understand more than I have in the past. This class is a very positive step in that direction. It's the "old dog/new tricks" thing. Yes, yes, we can learn much, we simply must want to and then find the venue for learning.
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