Tag Archives: poetry

How to Love a Poem

  • Read it. Out loud.
  • Love the obvious parts. Underline them.
  • Read it again. Out loud.
  • Read it each evening before bed, like a meditation.
  • Lean on the obvious parts to bring out the obscured, the subtle, and the mysterious.
  • Underline those parts, too.
  • Enjoy finding something new each time you re-visit the rhythm, spaces, and text.
  • Delight in discovering the complexities within those obvious parts you loved at first.

And that is how to love a poem, or anything.

A poem by Jack Gilbert from his book The Great Fires. It means something different, and more, to me each time I read it.

Highlights and Interstices

We think of lifetimes as mostly the exceptional

and sorrows. Marriage we remember as the children,

vacations, and emergencies. The uncommon parts.

But the best is often when nothing is happening.

The way a mother picks up the child almost without

noticing and carries her across Waller Street

while talking with the other woman. What if she

could keep all of that? Our lives happen between

the memorable. I have lost two thousand habitual

breakfasts with Michiko. What I miss most about

her is that commonplace I can no longer remember.

Jack Gilbert

Refusing Heaven - Jack GilbertI read a wide variety of genres – literary fiction, historical fiction, mystery, fantasy (lots of fantasy, these days), romance, and tons of YA. While I am reading a novel, I develop an intense connection to the characters. They populate my mind. If I move from one story to the next too quickly, my vampires get all mixed up with my Tudors. Though that does sound like fun, it gets confusing. When I read dissimilar books back-to-back (which I often do), it sometimes feels a little like my brain is eating chunks of German chocolate cake dunked in Thai fish soup. Certain combinations just don’t work.

I’ve found that if, between novels, I read essays, articles, non-fiction, and poetry it helps to clear my mind and ready it for the next foray into fiction. Sometimes I do this for one afternoon, and sometimes for a few days at at time. I do this to give my mind a break from fictional characters (with all their drama!) and to give myself a chance to catch up on sleep. As much as I enjoy a good essay, I’ve never felt compelled to stay up all night to finish one.

Jack Gilbert’s collection of poetry Refusing Heaven has lived on my nightstand for years. I read it when I am in between books. I read it when I want to meditate on how lovely language can be. After so many readings, the poems really are like a meditation to me, or a prayer. Many pages are dog-eared, and these are the poems I return to most often, such as this poem, entitled “Say You Love Me:”

Are the angels of her bed the angels
who come near me alone in mine?
Are the green trees in her window
the color I see in ripe plums?
If she always sees backward
and upside down without knowing it
what chance do we have? I am haunted
by the feeling that she is saying
melting lords of death, avalanches,
rivers and moments of passing through.
And I am replying, “Yes, yes.
Shoes and pudding.”

Okay, I might have a bit of a crush on JG. I heard him interviewed on NPR several years ago. He spoke of life, work, and romance. The way he spoke of love with his gravel voice, I imagined that’s what his voice would sound like, waking up in bed with a lover on a rainy afternoon. It’s not that I fantasized about him. It’s just that I think his voice – full of cracks and breaks – permanently sounds the way it would whispering sweet nothings while the rain taps the window.