I read more poetry last month than I think I did in all of 2015.
I didn’t enjoy much of it.
I want to like most poetry more than I do, and I’m trying to unpack my assumptions and standards and guilt. I have a goal: appreciation.
I feel guilty for not liking contemporary poetry as much as other people do. That makes picking up new books rather fraught. And I have no idea why I’m able to put down prose or walk away from a painting without feeling like less of a human being—but not a poem other people are raving about.
There are things I want in a poem in order to enjoy it or to want to continue reading it: music. Reach out to me with assonance, consonance, alliteration, meter and I’ll listen. I’m not saying that’s the only way to make a poem but that is what I enjoy and that is what makes me get into the space of a poem, what makes me want to rail against it and revel with it. Music plus intelligent observation is the fun in poetry.
Certainly there are things I like in prose and things I don’t, but those are less about format and more about content. I would be content to read about most anything in a poem if there were music.
So I come round to my goal: how does one learn to appreciate a piece of art?
Sandy Longhorn writes of “the value of sticking with readings that don’t particularly set one’s hair on fire” and I’m curious what that is and how it works. And why you would want to study something which brings you no pleasure. How is it that prolonged exposure teaches appreciation?
When I read Jane Hirshfield’s The Beauty last month, I was surprised at my own enjoyment. Hirshfield’s poems are beautiful for their surprisingly metaphors—which I found only worked once or twice per poem for me—not any sonic texture. How was I able to appreciate them? Or does perhaps surprise rate as high as music in my standards?
And is that the trick to appreciation? To let my standards go? And if I do, how do I evaluate or experience the art itself?