I’ve tried writing more poems than I’ve read. Well, before this past couple of weeks anyway. A couple of weeks ago I realized if I ever wanted to write serious poetry — and that decision is far from decided — then I had better start reading some, again.
I have tried reading poetry before. Usually I’d open an anthology at the library, read a poem or two, then fold the book back up in disgust. “What does this shit mean anyway?” I’d say. How can people write crap like this? How do people enjoy it?
And then I am drawn to a site like Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog at Writer’s Digest. I write a poem a day for a month and my head gets big. “I can do this,” I say. “It’s easy.” But the honest truth is I have no idea how to write the things. I just write. I let the words explode from me and fall where they please. Kind of like this blog post. No plan, no form, just a rant with a possible end.
And then I will read a poem on Poetic Asides I think is crap but it has fifty comments praising it. And another will be total crap and have a hundred comments praising it. I chalk it up to popularism. You hang around a website long enough that people get to know you, you make enough generous comments about poems you don’t understand or appreciate, and sooner or later those make believe poets decide to like your generosity with praise and return the favor. Sort of like politics without the assholes.
I am being rude. Of course poets are nothing like I describe. I am making up excuses for my complete lack of understanding of and ability in the craft. I’d rather write prose any day. Conflict. Rising tension. Suspense. Imagery. Figures of speech. Empathy. A story formulated to encapsulate the reader. This stuff is easy (right); while poetry is hard. But something about poetry draws me in. I am a fish hooked on a line and not understanding what is causing the pain in my face as I somehow swim closer and closer to those green boots standing in the water.
When I read poems, something unexplained happens to me, and my prose writing likes it. I cannot adequately describe the effect, but I am open to new ideas, new words, new arrangements of words. It’s like a poem shuffles my brain and I am playing with a new set of random cards. I don’t even have to understand the poem. Most poems I don’t understand; they are puzzles to me, yet if I try to solve the puzzles, their effects backfire and I get nothing out of them. A bizarre game this poetry.
So a couple of weeks ago I decided to read some poems. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I was at Scheherazade Books and found a Leonard Cohen book it the $1 bin. I picked it up. What Canadian writer can resist reading Leonard Cohen? Stupid question, I know, but the answer should be none.
I was not enamoured by the book or even captivated. I struggled to read through it. I did enjoy a few of his poems, but most were … I gave the book an uneducated three stars. I said “They were terse and unemotional, written by a young man with a hard-on and little patience for the world.”
Before I had finished Cohen, I browsed the 800 section at my local library, the 803 and 808 writing craft books. Nothing interested me, so I flipped through some poetry books. Most were long and dreadful looking things written by people with unpronounceable names. I groaned. And then I saw the name ‘Jim Harrison.’ No, he’s not a Pawn Star but a prose writer. He is considered one of the unique voices in 20th and 21st century American literature. Les Edgerton recommends him, and I listen to just about anything Les Edgerton has to say, if I read or hear it. Les also turned me onto David Sedaris who I hate as a writer — his additive style irritates me. Anyway, it looked short and sweet, I like Harrison, so I signed it out. I hate his poems, but once again, they affect me in strange ways.
This past week I have re-written two major scenes in my current novel project, and I felt very much in control over the words. I explored and developed ideas that worked, I hope. I have also written a few poems and they felt good to write. Maybe it’s the reading of poetry and maybe it’s not, but something inside my grey matter is changing for the better.
I am now hoping to read poetry every day and write poems every week.