About Reading Poetry: Act 4, 12-15

12. A poem can feel like a locked safe in which the combination is hidden inside. In other words, it’s okay if you don’t understand a poem. Sometimes it takes dozens of readings to come to the slightest understanding. And sometimes understanding never comes. It’s the same with being alive: Wonder and confusion mostly prevail.

13. Perform marginalia. Reading without writing in the margins is like walking without moving your arms. You can do it and still reach your destination, but it’ll always feel like you’re missing something essential about the activity.

14. There is nothing really lost in reading a poem. If you don’t understand the poem, you lose little time or energy. On the contrary, there is potentially much to gain—a new thought, an old thought seen anew, or simply a moment separated from all the other highly structured moments of your time.

Try to see what world the poem creates. Then, if you are lucky, its world will help you re-see your own.

15. Poetry depends on pattern and variation—even non-linear, non-narrative, anti-poetic poetry. By perceiving patterns and variations on those patterns, your brain will attempt to make order out of apparent chaos. “Glockenspiel,” “tadpole,” and “justice” have ostensibly nothing to do with each other, and yet your brain immediately tries to piece them together simply because they are there for the apprehending.


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