Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Little Experiment in Reading Poetry. . . .

Do any of you read poetry? Why, or why not? Would you like to read more?

I'm asking because I think I'm going to try a little experiment here, if you don't mind. A much more manageable experiment than last year's Ferrante ReadAlong, but one that will depend just as much on your participation (even if that participation is simply a quiet reading in the background, no comments required).

Recently, on Instagram, I was inspired to join a  #handlettering Daily Challenge. When I began, I had visions of developing beautiful hand-written alphabets, not calligraphy, no, but something that would make my words on a page bloom with colour and depth and aesthetic appeal beyond their content. I borrowed books from the library, practised with different writing instruments, and quite quickly discovered that the hand-lettering I had in mind demanded far more discipline than I am ready to give.

However, in the course of experimenting, I tried loosening up a bit by copying out a few poems -- I used ruler and pencil to trace straight lines across blank pages, and I used my good pen to write as I spoke the words of each poem aloud. What a satisfying practice this turned out to be, a very meditative way to experience a poem from the inside out.  Also gratifying was that a few of my "poetry in social media" friends also picked up the practice, and we've been enjoying reading each other's choices in their own handwriting.

Given how long it takes to copy out a poem by hand, and how connected I become with each poem through that act -- and also given that I seem to have trouble posting regularly here on my Reading Blog, where there's a wonderful community I love interacting with -- I thought perhaps I could build even more on this engagement with a poem. And that's where my next experiment comes in.

What I thought I'd try is posting a photograph of My Handwritten Copy of a Poem -- and ask you to read it and to leave a comment about something you observe in the poem -- a detail you like, a puzzle you can't solve on your own, an image that sticks, a word you love as the poet has used it -- anything.  I don't think we need to jump to "interpreting" the poem at the moment -- when I've taught poetry in the past (in countless university English classes), I generally try to delay the push for meaning until we've worked out what the poem denotes at its most obvious surface: Here, for example, that might just be trying to sort out who the speaker is, and who is being addressed, and in what form, why, as well as clarifying or determining some of the references (geographical and historical -- the proper nouns, for example). Then we'd usually spend some time enjoying, playing with, the sensory immediate - the sound and rhythm of the words, the patterns that begin to emerge in imagery or in structure.

But I'm happy with any comment you'd care to leave, taking our collective enjoyment and understanding of the poem in whichever direction you choose.  I'm going to change the commenting set-up so that your comments will not appear immediately -- My experiment involves allowing you to develop your own response to the poem without being unduly influenced by what others say about it, at least not for this first round. We'll see if that works, or not. . .

So I'm waiting. . . at the very least, I'd love to know if you read the poem. I'll share any comments in a few days and perhaps say a bit about the poet and about why I chose this poem and how I read it....

*by the way, given that the speaker in the poem refers to "the poem on page 24," you might like to know that the poem does appear on page 24 of the collection.  

29 comments:

  1. '...I didn't know that time means so much until I came here; I mean, I didn't know that time means so little here in the eternal city...'

    I like that very much.

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  2. Stopping by to say my terror of interpreting poetry is second only to my fear of heights so your incremental approach is appreciated. SO, I can guess who"U" is and what this is meant to sound like (the seagull and the crow scream not just once) and what's on U's mind but, at the risk of veering totally off course...I get a migraine thinking about a poem must have sounded like/meant/looked like in its original language. Is the translation the thing or an idea about the thing? I am intrigued you chose a work in translation, it gives me more to puzzle through. As always, thanks for taking the time to share what you do with all of us.

    nyreader

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  3. I'm liking this idea.

    I'm struck by the narrative nature of your transcription choices so far - a she, a we, a you (or two), an I. Something in the syntax of this poem I find as claustrophobic as I do the city, any city. I read a lot of poetry but this one doesn't speak to me.

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    1. Interesting -- I'll have to go back and review my other choices. I suspect just coincidence, but . . .
      And I think you're right about the claustrophobic element, at some level. I mean, she's in the hotel room, writing a letter -- so much containment....

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  4. Lovely!
    I love poetry-mostly our poetry and there some beautiful poems.
    We've read english poetry in grammar school (all the "usual suspects")
    I would read,don't think I would comment-reading The Sellout,I realize that there are some unknown (and obvious,too,of course ),for me,things in satire of different society.
    It would be interesting reading the comments
    Dottoressa

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  5. Francis, I love reading these poems. So much that I ordered the book. I do have a question about the third line: the ??? of La Dolce Vita. Don't know when my book will arrive so am hoping you can tell me in the mean time. I love writing out the poems. For a time I was memorizing poems every year but that project has gone by the wayside with some brain cells so I am really looking forward to writing out some poems and then rereading them from time to time.

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    1. the grey-scale of La Dolce Vita

      Thanks for the comment, which deserves more response, but I'm wanting to get you that word (above) today, and it's a rushed day ;-)

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  6. What an incredible prose-poem - the words that draw you along the cobblestones, that paint that high, clear sky, that ring with the cries of birds overhead. Words heavy with emotion, yet weightless.
    In my youth, I was in love with poetry.
    I haven't spent much time with it in many years.
    And now... in an unexpected place... this.
    Thank you

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    1. You're very welcome, Indigo Dragonfly. Thanks for helping get the conversation started by emphasising some of the poem's images so specifically

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  7. I came back to read it again...it reads like beat...

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    1. It's surprisingly rhythmic when you read it aloud, isn't it?

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  8. The scene of the seagull and crow fighting like gladiators above the coliseum caught my attention, black versus white.

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    1. I hadn't noticed how the birds' colours intensify the drama, but you're so right, they do.

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  9. I Love poetry, have written poetry, love this challenge because it puts poetry out there. I have the Gernes volume you copied from. I find the shifting/lifting of language in poetry(even song lyrics, rap) corresponds to some rhythm in us and becomes a mantra.

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    1. Wonderful! How did you learn of Gernes' work? (I wouldn't have come across it myself, I don't think, except for a Social Media friend, Vicki Ziegler -- she Tweets as @bookgaga and started the wonderful hashtag #todayspoem).

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  10. First, I like the poem very much. Second, I like (in theory) the concept of writing out a poem I prize. My mother's journals are full of writings she prized. Third -- I fear I long ago lost the patience and ability to write with a pen, and seeing your work above I regret that. And given that the poem is (to me) about noticing, tasting the moment, recording it, sharing it -- I regret even more my lost skills. Thanks for sharing this.

    Ann

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    1. I'm relearning to write with a pen, surprised how gradually I've slipped away from using one, especially since I'm no longer marking student papers. There's something special, I think, in the kinaesthetic connection.

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  11. I like the sense of place that it evokes. The alleys of the old city are narrow, around each bend a new treasure unfurls. I think it captures that.

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    1. I think so as well, although I find a certain distancing in that she's writing her recollected description in the hotel room . . .

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  12. I posted a comment the other day but it didn't show. I'll try again ... Just wanted to say that it was amazing to come across this post as I had just that day copied a poem into my diary/journal/book-of-everything for the first time in many many years! I've started a Masters of Creative Writing this year (while still working) so have even less time than ever. But I'm still reading, if rarely commenting! Please do keep up this blog.

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    1. I think I've commented on this elsewhere, Tiffany, but I'm going to say it again anyway -- Congratulations on the brave step into a Masters of Creative Writing. You will be so busy and so engaged, buzzing with learning. I'm a teeny bit envious. . . And I love that synchronicity of us both copying poems at the same time, in different hemispheres, different seasons.

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  13. I love reading poetry, but am not always up for it. When I am, it is easy to lose oneself. I am drawn to the line you have written: ....like the city loess itself in its folds, disappears, regains its senses.... A fragment and yet it encapsulates everything

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    1. Yes, as you point out, a fragment -- so representative of Rome in many ways, no?

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  14. After reading the poem several times, I find that I do not have a general response to it. There are bits which I like, others which irritate me and some which even annoy me. I like the way the past appears unexpectedly, like in the image of the Roman soldier on the Spanish Steps. I can see him in his famous leather sandals lounging on the steps, his pilum beside him. (Although, strictly speaking, he would never have been allowed to enter the city in full gear.) I also liked the image of a “gladiator fight” between two birds about a bread crust (bread being the other thing, besides games, which the Roman emperors had to offer the populace to keep people content.) The first times I read those lines I read “Pantheon” instead of “Colosseum”. That was not an accident, I think, the Pantheon being the perfect example of the architectural palimpsest that city offers. So, in short, I liked the moments when history popped up the way little pieces of artifacts stick out of the ground on an archeological site. I did not enjoy all that talking about time itself. Far too obvious for my taste.
    Some more random observations:
    I liked the wordplay of “Rome” and “roam”, although it was probably brought in by the translators.
    What does it mean that I keep reading “breathtaking pizza” for “piazza” in line 19?
    I was irritated by the name “Quasimodo”, thinking (like many readers probably do) of Victor Hugo and wondering what Notre Dame had to do with Rome. How many people in Sweden or Denmark (where the first readers of the poem would come from) will know that Italian poet who, by the way, did not write so much about Rome as about his native Sicily? Mentioning him in this way strikes me as a form of name-dropping which I find slightly annoying.
    Finally I was struck by the line “the Mediterranean will take care of the rest”, thinking of all the people who have met their death trying to cross that sea in the last years. As the poem was written before 2012, the author may not have thought of sinking vessels and drowning refugees, which goes to show that a poem may take on different meanings long after the author has released it into the world.

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    1. Thank you for engaging with this in such a sustained manner, despite it irritating you perhaps as much as it pleased you -- only what I would expect, mind you, given what I know of your intellectual generosity.
      I think the Roman soldier is, actually, a contemporary Roman soldier -- the American cigarette (a Marlboro) being the clue. But of course the words "Roman soldier" immediately evoke the image you sketch -- thank you for that observation. And I almost agree with what you say about preferring the way history just "pops up" in the poem, but I actually enjoyed the rhythm of the repeated reference to "time." As Georgia says, above, something like beat, even spoken word poetry.
      As you've commented, Salvatore Quasimodo was an Italian novelist and poet who won the Nobel prize in the 50s, but I'm sure Gernes must have been aware of the instant connotation of his surname and perhaps is playing with that a bit. A risk, obviously, which irritates some readers. I like a puzzle myself and the (cheap) satisfaction I get from it, but I take your point.
      And yes, there is poignancy -- no, outright anguish, properly -- from those of us who know, now, how "the Mediterranean [has] take[n] care of the rest" in recent years. For me, this is where the tensions of the poem's references to some personal, perhaps romantic, concerns are most dramatically juxtaposed with the vast swathes of time and space that Rome conjures. As Annie Cholewa notes, below, it's a claustrophobic poem in many ways, fitting into a bottle in the end, all its tight little clichés of closing salutations flung out into and against that (eternal?) movement just outside the hotel window. . .

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  15. Loved the sensation of riding a thought thermal from page 24 to "columns of dust and oblivion" as the city loses and regains itself, in a never ending poem, clinging to those semicolons for balance!

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    1. Oh, there you go -- love this! Thank you! Clinging to the semicolons for balance (and a place to take a breath!) Thought thermal indeed.

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  16. I thought I had commented here, but I must have failed to hit the proper button. I do love reading poetry, and copying out lines, but I always loose them, no matter how intentional I try to be. But it is the act of writing that cements them in memory, at least for me.

    In the poem you have copied, still, even since I first read this and failed to register my comment, this fragment echoes: "like the city loses itself in its folds, disappears, regains its sense..." Perfect

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    1. Now you'll know -- it wasn't your failure with the proper buttons, but mine.

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