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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

“Why Is Poetry Not Like It Used to Be?”

Floor, wall, door

Poet Mary Ann Samyn, who will be at Dog Ears Books this coming Friday, June 14, from 5-7 p.m., commented in an e-mail that she thinks people have a lot of questions about poetry, and the question I’ve used as the heading for today’s post is one she realizes many people have. Why don’t poems rhyme any more? What are they about? How are you supposed to know?

Here is a short poem from Samyn’s most recent collection, My Life in Heaven.
“The Key Is How”  

Dappled light is neutral. 
Painted dappled light, useless, mostly. 
What had been successfully avoided might have helped, 
actually, given the chance. 
I walked from one lake to another, not choosing. 
“We’re on a ship now,” the all-alone sisters told each other, 
covering themselves: “Good night, good night. 
Mid-afternoon: what’s not to love?
The dunegrass sways, and is sharp.
I don’t like to analyze poems and will not attempt to analyze this one, but I keep reading it over and over, letting the lines wash over and through me. There is no obligation to engage in analysis to enjoy a poem: you don’t have to be a critic. When people tell me they are afraid of poetry – and yes, many say that – I encourage them to treat it like gentle rain coming in the late afternoon of a hot summer day. “Just stand there and let it pour over you.”

It was Mary Ann also put into my head the idea of presenting several of this season’s bookstore events as conversations with visiting authors. “Ask the Poet” pretty much gives the audience free rein. How the poet answers will be up to her, obviously, but I’m sure it will be interesting.

Samyn is the author of four previous full-length collections of poems. She is Bolton Professor for Teaching and Mentoring at West Virginia University, where she teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing. She comes to Glen Lake most summers.

What do you want to ask a poet? Think about that between now and Friday.

Path through meadow


P. J. Grath said...

I was horrified to see this afternoon that the formatting of Mary Ann Samyn's poem was all undone when my post was published. Corrected now. Sorry! Mea culpa! (I guess).

Dawn said...

Love the "book" photo. And thought that last one was a shadow till I read the title of it...then saw the path. I am so bad at poetry that I don't even know what to ask.

Dawn said...

PS: We're playing our last concert for the summer Friday evening...I'll think of you as we start playing about 6:30.. :)

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, don’t feel bad. I felt the same way when I first went to dance concerts. I had no dance vocabulary to think or converse in. But thanks to those concerts, I did learn to enjoy watching dance performances, and I know you have been reading poetry. Trying new art forms, even as audience rather than performer, can be a little scary.

Wish you could be at the bookstore on Friday AND that I could be at your concert, which I know will be lovely, too.

Dawn said...

Thanks PJ

Karen M said...

Part of the problem with poetry, as an art, is it uses words and we've all been taught to use words to convey specific meaning and it's hard to let that go. I don't think we struggle so much to find the "meaning" in a painting or a piece of music. I know I, myself, prefer more accessible styles of poetry. But this poem by Billy Collins helps me let go of the need to fully understand. (I hope the formatting works out)

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks for the Billy Collins poem, Karen. I like it a lot. Sorry it didn't work out for you to be with us on Friday because I'm sure you would have enjoyed very much the conversation and Mary Ann's remarks on what she aims to do with writing poetry. I've been getting very appreciative feedback from those who were in attendance.

Kathy said...

I would have no idea what questions to ask the poet. It sounds like some folks came up with some good questions and enjoyed the talk, though.

P. J. Grath said...

It was such good conversation, and the visiting poet had so many illuminating things to say about poetry, that I would give a lot if I'd been able (if I'd thought about making arrangements) to videotape the event. So many people I know -- especially writer friends -- would have gotten so much out of it that it seems a shame not to have a permanent record of what was said. Sic transit, etc., I guess. And no matter what day or hour an event is scheduled, there will be conflicts.

Not everyone asked questions (though most did). Some just listened, but from their faces I could tell they were enjoying listening.