Monday, February 15, 2010

The Promise of Poetry

Recently, I had lunch with a friend who is a poet in the same MFA program I'm in. She told me that for a while she had kept up a routine of reading a collection of poetry a day and therefore writing three or four poems a day.

I was interested to hear that she often writes poems "in response" to poems she has read and that reading a collection of poetry and not writing a handful of poems in response was beyond her imagining. I found the idea of a dialog of poetry -- even one where only one side can hear the response -- a fabulously romantic idea.

My literature class on American women writers tells me that this is in no way an isolated idea -- women (and men) publishing in periodicals in the 17th and 18th centuries frequently created a dialog in the periodical itself. Writer A would publish a several poems, and then writer B would respond with a poem that the periodical would also publish. Writer A would, usually, respond in kind. Then writer C would write a poem to A. A would respond as it was only polite, even if A's response was to tell C to tone down his adoration a few notches ... all of this in verse and printed in a subscriber based magazine/newspaper. Like very public fan-mail ... in metered sonnets.

My reading this past weekend, a how-to guide called Thanks, But This Isn't For Us by Jessica Page Morrell, gave Morrell's opinion that prose writers should be writing all the time and writing poetry all the time. She suggested The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor. I subscribed (email and podcast).

Now I have the promise of poetry. In my in-box daily and hopefully I will learn to write in response.

And hopefully I will learn to think of "in response" as not parroting or theft -- notions that prose writers like to cling to and are therefore difficult to dislodge. In all the media mash up and slipstream of information that occurs today, I find it impossible to ever steal anything; even if I were to try, my mind makes it over into something new.

As of yet, I've written no new poems, "in response" or otherwise.

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