the meaning of books

March 2, 2019

The written word has taught me to listen to the human voice, much as the great unchanging statues have taught me to appreciate bodily motions. On the other hand, but more slowly, life has thrown light for me on the meaning of books.

Marguerite Yourcenar
Memoirs of Hadrian

Obviously poetry is the most tiny, compact genre of language and I think as a child falling in love with listening to poetry even before I could read it for myself, I felt that transporting magic of an image or a phrase or a lyric or just language that sounded carefully chosen, luscious, precise. I loved the feeling with a poem early on and still do that you could read a few lines and be carried away, be carried away from your current situation, your own preoccupations.

Really poetry was the magic carpet for me and I love stories and novels and essays and journalism, good journalism and everything as well, but usually it’s a little longer and there’s a little more flab in it, I guess, or excess. It’s not as refined and carefully selected as a poem. So I love that miniaturist but huge quality of a poem and the way a poem trusts us as readers, as interpreters to feel it, go with it, understand it, hold it without a lot of didactic explanation.

I have very little tolerance for the sort of piece of writing that keeps pounding us over the head with its message or telling us, “Do you get me, do you understand, did you pick up what I meant?” and that style of writing, that kind of didactic explanatory writing is very popular in the world, very common, exists in all fields. I mean someone recently gave me a cookbook and I gave it away because it was so didactic.

I mean it acted like it had to tell you what “stir” meant. Maybe it was written for children or something but it had a tone and I thought, “I don’t want to eat that food. It’s too bossy.” I like to play around with my recipes. I don’t want a cookbook hanging over me, and poetry is the most respectful genre, I think, for the reader in terms of, you know, go where you will.

Maybe you won’t go exactly where I was when I wrote this poem but it may be somewhere interesting and I love that sense of possibility as a reader, as a listener. And so writing poems, finding connections between images, layers of metaphor, being willing to hint, as the poet William Stafford used to say. He loved poetry because there was a hinting, suggestive quality about it and then a lot of trust.

You know, you’ll be able to take this somewhere that matters for you. Walt Whitman saying, “To have a great poem, you have to have a great audience.” So that mutual interaction. I try to write scenes even in prose books which feel or sound poetic. I’m not sure I always succeed but certainly when I’m rereading the text to myself I hope for that. I try to hear the language, feel the richness of a phrase. You’re still weaving a tapestry even if it’s a prose book.

Naomi Shihab Nye
Interview on AdLit.org

like listening to a lesson

February 16, 2019

You know what? When I read a poem, I don’t expect to get it. I go through a process much like listening to a lesson on a foreign language. The first time through, I just listen, letting it wash through me, not trying to make sense of it, and it is, well, Greek to me. The second time, I begin to make connections between the unfamiliar Italian (it never really was Greek) and the English I already know—a word or phrase here, a context there. Next I might try pronouncing the sounds myself. Each time, usually, I feel more, know more. I may get a little excited thinking I’m onto something. Little by little, it enters me, until finally I realize I in turn have entered it. Meraviglioso! I’m speaking Italian!

Alice B Fogel
Strange Terrain

beyond speech

September 20, 2018

Luca Merli

The language of poetry specializes in doubt. Without the doubters, everyone is cut off at the first question. Poetry does not presume to know, but is angling to get a glimpse of what is gradually coming into view; it aims to rightly identify what is looming; it intends to interrogate whatever is already in place. Poetry, whose definition remains evasive by necessity, advocates the lost road; and beyond speech — waiting, listening, and silence.

C.D. Wright
The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All

(How’s that for a title, boys and girls?)