One of my new year's resolutions this year has been to read more poetry. I'm annoyed with myself that poetry even has to be a resolution—because I love it, but somehow I have gotten out of the habit of reading it very often. I can't say why, exactly. Part of it is that, working as a librarian, I am exposed to so many, many, many books. There are so many things I want to read. (Right now, for example, I have 89 library books checked out just on my card. Fifteen of those are overdue. Ten or so are Kaleb's, four are Nathan's. I probably won't get through 10% of them.) I've started having a sort of reading ADD: there are so many choices that I can't settle on one thing. This week, I did finish a book (Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, which was good until I realized I was being strung along to the incomplete, this-is-a-trilogy ending that all teen fantasy has these days), but I also started two different novels (Finding Camlan by Sean Pidgeon (loving so far—a literary adventure about Arthur) and Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (which I'm certain I need to save for another time when I'm not feeling so distracted.) I started a biography about the Bronte Sisters (The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne by Catherine Reef), a book about writing (Good Prose by Tracey Kidder), and three recipe books. Not to mention flipping through the most recent Typography Annual. Oh! And Miss Peregrine's Home for Unusual Children, which I am trying to read on the Kindle app on my cell phone just to prove to myself that I can actually get through an entire e-book, a feat I have never managed before.
I need a better system for prioritizing my reading desires. And that's the entire problem right there: I want to read it all, right now. So I bring home too much and get overwhelmed and then don't finish anything.
Ironically, while this is the thing that pushed the reading of an abundance of poetry out of my life, it is also a frustration that poetry dissolves. Because here's the thing: you read a poem, and then you are finished. You might not read the entire book of poems (which is OK because not every poem is going to connect with you anyway), but you finish the poems you do read. Even if you read a poem three or four times, and think about it for awhile, and maybe put a sticky note on one you want to keep with you forever (or bend down the corner of the page, depending upon whether or not it's your book or the library's), you have time to finish it. A poem is a very small, concise, and contained reading experience.
Why haven't I had more of it in my life?
But since January, mixed in with all that other frustrated reading has been poems. I've read poems out of the 2012 Best American Poetry (one of my overdue books) and The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine, and a few out of The 20th Century in Poetry, which weighs perhaps five pounds. I have a line stuck in my head from a poem by rachal Hadas that I cannot say where I read: "proceeding down the avenue clutching a clue, love’s puzzle not yet, not ever done" which at odd and random times has been a sort of comfort. Somewhere else I read a poem that said our entire life is simply one word, spoken so slowly from our birth to our death that no one can hear it but God. I can't find the poem, though, and perhaps I have changed it in my head, but that is OK because the image stays with me.
Some poems I don't understand completely but I love anyway, like "Shabistari and the Secret Garden" by Robert Bly, from the May 2005 Poetry Magazine, which is partly about Sufi philosophy but includes these lines:
When a poem takes me to that place where
No story ever happens twice, all I want
Is a warm room and a thousand years of thought.
Those high spirits don't prove you are
A close friend of truth, but you have learned to drive
Your buggy over the prairies of human sorrow.
And what I don't understand or connect to doesn't matter because I have those images to play back in my mind, to think about, to puzzle over, to welcome as phonemes in my life's one word.
Others I understand in their entirety just as their one perfect image breaks me open:
Down here, with my long wait for wings to grow
I'm slow accepting the stars' chart for me,
the blind track written in my sky at birth
(from "More than Twice, More than I Can Count" by Peter Cooley)
Isn't her silence, finally, loving? And yours
not entirely self-serving? Hasn't the time come,
once again, not to talk about it?
(from "The Imagined" by Stephen Dunn)
I am variable, exquisite, tough,
Even useful; I am subtle; all this is enough.
I don't want to be a temple, says the tree.
But if you don't behave, I will be.
(from "Anti-Romantic" by Marie Ponsot)
Only in calendars that mark no Spring
Can there be weather in the mind
That moves to you again as you are now
(from "Eight Variations" by Weldon Kees)
And I am reminded by reading poetry why I love reading poetry. Yes, it is the finishing of something. But more, it is the discovery of the bits of my own wrecks in other writer's worlds. It is the deep peace of knowing: oddly enough, and in ways that hardly match, someone else knows. It is the tribe I want to be a part of.