Poetry and its Readers

In his Poetry Home Repair Manual, Ted Kooser advises poets to remember that poetry uses language, which is meant to enable communication with other people. He aptly describes the poet’s job as not involving writing works only the poet can understand, but ones that make sense to the reader.

On the same day I read this advice, I also chanced upon Charles Simic’s Sixty Poems. I think when one becomes a US Poet Laureate, there is really nothing stopping him or her from using titles like Poems, Forty Poems, My Poems, etc. I bought Simic’s book (I have read many good reviews about him and his current title is something to make a reader curious).

So far I have read the first three poems of Sixty Poems. I fell in love with the first two, “Toward Nightfall” and “Against Whatever It is That’s Encroaching”. The third one, “St. Thomas Acquinas” started off strong, immediately arresting me with its first line: “I left parts of myself everywhere”. Then I started going “against whatever was encroaching” when I read the following lines:

” She had traveled to darkest Africa.
She had many stories to tell about the jungle.”

“A black man and I stole a woman’s dress.
It was of silk; it shimmered.”

I stopped reading and started looking for my receipt (that’s the only way I can get a full refund). In Kooser’s view, I was acting like your regular (but most important) readers, “slightly on their guard.” The first-impression stereotypical message in those lines made me lose interest, but that was temporary; I remembered I was one of those readers who actually buy poetry books and read them thoroughly. So I finished reading the poem and watched it climb the heights of grand application to the human experience, and I began to remember that as poets we create personae for our works, and I started thinking….”…traveled to darkest [someone making fun of Conrad?] Africa/….stories about the jungle.” Jungle? Jungle.

I ordered a tea (I aways get tea in this Wi-Fi place), and started editing my own poetry, making sure it grabs and sustains the reader’s friendship, or some such sweet nothing in Ted Kooser’s manual.


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