Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Learning - that's what it's all about

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.


standing on my head said...

i have the same challenge with poetry. i do not have the patience to plow through t.s. eliot, and we can forget ezra pound. allen ginsberg, yes, mostly. and so i miss a lot. i do forge on, in fits and starts, to learn more, understand more.
while i occasionally aspire to write poetry, i know that it is dreck. so be it.

June Calender said...

Those dear old dead white guys had a lot to say and moved poetry along, but there are many contemporary writers, some quite accessible. You might read Mary Oliver, Billie Collins, Ted Kouzner, Mark Strand, Rita Dove -- Oliver is a nature poet and Pulitzer winner, the others are past poet laureates, so is Doty and he's harder as I wrote. It's a shame to limit our acquaintance with poets to the ones we had to read in school. Give the living ones a chance. Often poetry is something we really do write for ourselves, we just have to find words for an experience. It's okay if it's not up to publishable standards.


It's the inspiration that leads us to uncover the layers of our interests don't you think? An example -- inspiration to be a botanist but really knowing that inspiration will take you so far. The old cliche -- its the journey that really counts.

June Calender said...

I agree, Barbara -- the journey is the fun part too. With poetry, however, getting the meaning can be hard work but having the discovery of another's attainment when you understand the poem and the skill it took to make it is then having a treasure that was worth the effort. That's often true with art, visual, musical, literary.