13 January 2008

Poetry kicks ass, but it kicks mine, too.

Mark Halliday on Mary Ruefle's "Perfect Reader," from his essay, "The Arrogance of Poetry," from The Georgia Review (but I don't know which issue):

"The satisfactions of imagining a lover's embrace, imagining 'fucked-up beauty' in a tree, imagining a man who describes a flower in comically abstract language: such satisfactions may put a swing in one's stride but cannot become the same as having a lover. The summer of imagining will subside into the winter of isolation, and the speaker will return to awareness of her own lack of a spiritual home.

[. . .]

"The poem turned out to be good, so I'm not ungrateful; indeed, my life is enriched by the poem--but now where am I? I'm on the first page of Post Meridian, a book containing more than seventy poems; and one of the many other books around my desk is Ruefle's more recent Among the Musk Ox People. How much can I respond to? What will become of me? When can I have lunch?

"Standing at the beginning of a book, "Perfect Reader" seems a warning: It is beautiful to try to be a perfect reader of poems. And you are fated to try. But your imaginative efforts will be tiring and endless, and they could bring you to a condition of overexposed vulnerability, with newspapers as your only blankets."

Every Christmas, I recieve at least five books of poetry. Every semester, I buy at least five books of poetry for class. I fully intend to read all of them. But there's no way I can adequately expose myself to the inherent meaning of all of those poems.

A poem is so short and yet demands so much scrutiny in order to be properly understood and enjoyed, that each good poem--and I stumble into so many worthwhile, if not necessarily good poems--requires at least an hour to itself. I can't do it. There is no human way to be an adequate reader of poetry.

And yet I try. And I live for the trying.

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