On Reading Poetry (and a Poem)

Do you read poetry?

I haven’t been very good at reading poetry for most of my life, even though I teach English for a living and am about to finish a master of fine arts in creative writing. I didn’t grow up reading much poetry, except to tear it apart (like we all did in grade school) and “unlock” the hidden symbols. But to just read a poem and enjoy it? To let it percolate in my soul? To let it become part of me? That was a foreign concept.

Luckily you can’t be in my MFA program without encountering a lot of good poetry and poets, who, I’ve discovered, are people who see the world differently, who notice things and think of images in different ways than those of us who are more prosaic. At our last residency on Whidbey Island in March, as a group we read Anna Kamienska’s book Astonishments together. Kamienska was a Polish poet who struggled with doubt and faith her whole life, and who belongs in the same crowd as the great poet Czeslaw Milosz.

Here’s one of my favorites:

Gratitude

A tempest threw a rainbow in my face
so that I wanted to fall under the rain
to kiss the hands of an old woman to whom I gave my seat
to thank everyone for the fact that they exist
and at times even feel like smiling
I was grateful to young leaves that they were willing
to open up to the sun
to babies that they still
felt like coming into this world
to the old that they heroically
endure until the end
I was full of thanks
like a Sunday alms-box
I would have embraced death
if she’d stopped nearby

Gratitude is a scattered
homeless love

I don’t know if I can unlock this poem, but I understand it.

I think it might be nice to read poetry together here, and will try to post a poem sometimes. Who are your favorite poets?

  • Sean

    Mark, thank you for the post. A friend of mine just completed her MFA in Poetry (www.arcadia.edu/mfa-creative-writing) and over the course of the semesters we have enjoyed passing back and forth the poets and verses that interest us. I know very little about poetry, but I enjoy not knowing anything and taking it as it is. I’ve grown an appreciation for Mary Cornish, Spencer Madsen, Rowan Williams, William Blake and Emily Dickinson. (The former two are compulsory in any poetry list, though.) I would love to continue to read who you are reading.

  • http://thehighcalling.org/ Marcus Goodyear

    Alissa, thanks for this. I have struggled to stay engaged with poetry lately because the world of poetry has become (oddly) so very loud. There is so much to choose from.

    Recently penguin’s Poems by Heart app has inspired me to start memorizing poems again. I’m working through the ones that are available for purchase through the app.

    I have always found Wendell Berry’s poetry to be incredibly moving. One of my favorites is this short one:

    Walking on the River Ice

    A man could be a god
    if the ice wouldn’t melt
    and he could stand the cold.


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