• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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What I Feel Has Come and Gone Before

Every year for Christmas, my husband gives me ten poetry books. He usually includes the year’s prize winners, but also collections he’s heard about. It’s overwhelming to be face so much new poetry and I usually don’t even crack one until April. Last night, I started reading one. Here’s my method: I read the first poem. I read the title poem. I read a random poem. And the last poem. At that point I have already declared whether the poet is a charlatan or gifted and of interest. If I think a poet is a phony, is cliched, has no clue how to break a line or just shreds some prose in the name of poetry, I become despondent as if the whole human project has been defiled.

How do you read a poem?

11 Responses

  1. Randomly and slowly. Like sipping Kentucky bourbon whiskey and inhaling hashish, a satisfying, expanding burn. Turned upside down and walking away from feet of clay, flying without wings and having no answer when asked, what’s up?

  2. I open one of my Ellen Bass books, turn to any poem, and enjoy. Her “The Thing is” is my favorite.

  3. I look at the big picture shape and space, then read slowly, concentrating, analyzing each word, usually re-reading until I think I understand it.

  4. Ah, what a question. So many ways. Maybe I read it through. Maybe a get a vibe. Do I hear it? Do I feel it? Where is it going. Where does it go? Is it a cheap shot at language, at inference? Does it mean? Does it resonate. Is it too esoteric for words? I might quit it. I might cry. It all depends.

  5. I wait for it to crack open to determine if I’m actually smart or have been fooling people. Also, I rate a poem based on how far it deviates from my own labored efforts in high school. My mother’s very good at it, at least.

  6. “How do you read a poem?”

    With a notably less discerning eye than yours, though I do believe at least 90% of it is crap. At least five percent of the remainder is prose disguised as verse. That is also usually crap. A good poem is hard to find.

  7. I don’t. Why? Because of all of the above.

    Reading poetry is like going to an art gallery and standing before a painting or some other art form that makes no sense, and trying to make sense of it. Maybe they meant this. Maybe they meant that.

    Reading it is like reading what someone wrote while they were high – or half asleep – or – it seems like they’re trying too hard.

    IDK. I’ve never liked poetry.

    That said, there is one young man, the son of a friend, who was just accepted into Sarah Lawrence for an MFA in poetry. His work is the only stuff I’ve ever read – and enjoyed.

  8. What’s a poem?
    Prose with a dirty face.
    A thinking man’s smirk.
    A question mark without a dot at the bottom of its pregnant belly.

  9. “Artists don’t choose to be artists, writers or singers. It’s just something you know you have to do.”
    Nanci Griffith – 2010
    She’s gone today.
    RIP Nanci. A true poet.

  10. Over and over and over, with more joy than discernment. I have books of poetry all over my house, to fill the time when my coffee is brewing or the dogs are outside in the rain. I used to think I needed to be more clever than I am to enjoy poetry, and stayed away, which means that it’s become a trove, an enchanting brand-new treat for my later years.

    I’ve started writing poetry as well, just for myself. It’s therapeutic, and words are wonderful playthings when the pressure is off. I do hope I have the chance to burn the poems before I die, lest someone discover the naivety of my line breaks.

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