A YouTube personality named Isla Rose candidly discusses her male-to-female transition experience, both the affective and the clinical sides. She remarks how the related hormone therapies can diminish responsiveness in intercourse; she must be “very interested” in what’s going on in order to have a peak experience. Implicit in the remark, I think, is that the other party to the encounter must be interesting.
Isla Rose’s remark lingers with me as I ponder how to improve my reading of poetry. As does a comment by painter Rochelle Feinstein that what she requires from a work of art is to learn something and to feel something.
I expect to be required to bring a high level of attention and focus to a good poem — to be interested. How does a poem meet the condition, for its part, of inciting interest? More precisely, what traits or behaviors must the poem bring to its encounter with one who neither writes nor teaches poetry in order to tempt me to invest in it and win through to a consummation, a discovery, a fulfillment of some sort? The question engages me deeply, but is it uppermost in the mind of the poet?
Poetry prizes are awarded by juries of “established” poets. Podcasts teem with conversations of adepts who hail from institutions, collectives, editorships, laureateships, residencies and the like. Poets introduce other poets with fulsome recitations of distinctions and publications; read their poems and other poets’ poems; talk among themselves about their wellsprings; quote other poets fluently, and agree how impressed they are with one another and with their peers. When the cordiality doesn’t cloy, the podcasts have their interest. But I’m wary of letting lore and evangelism intrude on my own solitary confrontation with the thing that poets are up to, which is the poem.
As a relative newcomer to the feast of contemporary poetry, I’m nagged by the suspicion that there are more poets than readers. I’d like to enlist in the latter cohort; I’m content to enjoy the company of few. I aspire to hitch an innate obsession with language to as much acumen as I can muster for the undertaking to chew on my contemporaries’ words and get at their juices. I’d like to discover for myself answers to the question posed in my title.
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