Sense and Sensibility

Although I enjoyed some of Mary Ruefle’s new book Trances of the Blast, and enjoy hearing the echo of Lucie Brock-Broido’s wonderful reading manner as I peruse her book   Stay, Illusion, I found myself descending into one of my grumpy poetry reader modes. “Start making sense!” I cry at these often inscrutable pages. “I don’t want to work so hard.” I strive in my own work to create poems that are accessible but not easily capturable in a phrase like “that poem was about…. ” I want the reader to respond with a combination of mind and body, to be taken by my words to a place just beyond words. I presume all poets want that. But I read so many poems today that are beyond that beyond. Yes, I am impatient. Yes, maybe I need to go back to grad school, when I tried more studiously to read with an openness and a broader appreciation of what a poet was trying to do in a poem, the many layers at work. But, arrghgh! So I feel so grateful for people who can read more generously than I can, and who will occasionally take me by the hand to lead me back to that kind of generosity and openness. Here is a lecture by Brenda Hillman on reading contemporary poetry that helped me breathe more easily, and gave me some insights into how I can gain access to these poems that were frustrating me by these authors who are so widely beloved.     But I confess it was also with great relief and delight as well that I recently heard Billy Collins read his poems so clearly stated and fully felt. The poet about whom other poets love to snark, he is as necessary to the spectrum of poetry as any experimental rule-breaker. His work and Hillman’s lecture put me back in balance as I continue to stumble forward on my reading adventures.

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