Recently, I read an article about interpreting poetry. The author scrutinized and explained a poem line by line. I felt like was in 7th grade biology, a poor little frog, dead and spread eagled with pins before me. I thought, do people really do this? I prayed, please don’t tell me this is how poetry is taught. If so, it’s no wonder so few people read and honor it.
There’s a lot of poetry that isn’t immediately accessible, but during this last year I learned, by walking with poems, that the body will teach you. Thinking will not gift you a great understanding of poetry, the language is not a dead thing to be dissected. Reading and then going for a walk, letting the words roll around, saying them loud, imbuing them with breathe — gives them life. Then let yourself be distracted by the trees, or a fly or your life for a while, the poem will settle and you will not understand, you will know it, in the way that you should, not the way someone else thinks you should. I don’t think there was ever a poet who hoped their poem meant only one thing to all people.
It wasn’t coincidental that I choose to walk to memorize, the literary tradition of walking is long and well acquainted with poets. I was vaguely aware of this, but I didn’t start walking and memorizing because of it. It was a natural inclination .
When I went for my first couple of walks after my project was completed, I felt liberated. I didn’t have anything I had to do —just walk, enjoy the scenery, and let my mind ramble. But then I started to feel a little naked heading out on the path without a poem in my pocket. So I wrote one down, and I’m carrying it around, living with it and it with me, as I imagine I will, as long as I can write and walk.
I took on the project to memorize and recite 52 in a year , because somewhere along the line I got it in my head that a “real” poet “knows” poems. A real poet reads poetry — A LOT of poetry. I wasn’t doing either. I was writing poems, but my commitment was facile.
I was correct in my assumptions about memorizing and reading. I am not the novice I was a year ago. I don’t know that my own poetry has seen the benefits yet, but I now know where to go, and how to get there.
I hope you all had as much fun as I did 🙂
These were my favorites.
Saint Francis and the Sow, by Galway Kinnell
The Envoy, by Jane Hirschfield
Often I Imagine the Earth, by Dan Gerber
Let Us Gather In a Flourishing Way, by Juan Felipe Herrera