On Reading Poetry: Act 5, 16-20

16. As your ability to read poems improves, so will your ability to read the news, novels, legal briefs, advertisements, etc. A Starbucks poster a few years ago read: Friends are like snowflakeseach one is unique. How true. But isn’t snow also cold and ephemeral? Let’s hope our friends are not.

17. Reading poetry is not only about reading poetry. Its alleged hermetic stylizations of syntax and diction can enhance your awareness of the world, even those things that don’t deal directly in words. A dress, a building, a night sky—all involve systems of pattern-recognition and extrapolation.

18. The very best way to read a poem is perhaps to be young, intelligent, and slightly drunk. There is no doubt, however, that reading poems in old age cultivates a desire to have read more poems in youth.

19. Someday, when all your material possessions will seem to have shed their utility and just become obstacles to the toilet, poems will still hold their value. They are rooms that take up such little room. A memorized poem, or a line or two, becomes part internal jewelry and part life-saving skill, like knowing how to put a mugger in an arm-lock or the best way to cut open a mango without slicing your hand.

20. Reading a good poem doesn’t give you something to talk about. It silences you. Reading a great poem pushes further. It prepares you for the silence that perplexes us all: death.

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