In my last post, I discussed Ron Silliman’s view that students of poetry writing need to know the “canon” of the past 200 years. Another voice today comes from the Poetry Foundation, where Ada Limon gives her views on teaching poetry. Again, this is coming from a poet rather than a teacher. She makes a statement that contradicts Silliman:
2) Learn poems you love. Read whatever poems you can get your hands on. Not just the classics, but those poets who are writing today. Pick up journals, magazines, and anthologies; search for the poems that break you open. Read those poems over and over again until you have them memorized in your mouth. Don’t worry about mimicking them, just accept them as your teachers and hold them close. Become an expert on the poems you adore.
I think this is a much more realistic attitude and approach for new writers–especially young ones. My students despise T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” because of its “wierdness.” However, we just spent two weeks in Whitman and students are eating up his imagery and statements. What purpose is there in reading poetry you don’t like/get/admire? Athletes don’t imitate or pursue those they don’t care for. Granted, I think you can be a better writer if you read outside of your comfort zone (I have to force myself on this one!), but for new/young writers this can be handicapping.
Limon concludes her article by encouraging writers to appreciate (show grattitude) to those who invest in your writing. I would go as far as taking this beyond poetry–if someone is willing to invest in me (period) I should be grateful, and I should show that grattitude. Again, I can’t get away from this intersection of life and poetry–not because I want to preach (as the P-A mights say), but because I’m sensing more and more that there are things we don’t always see/know/understand but are begging to become physical/real/poetic.