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?

legal neepery of interest only to copyright holders and their publishers

The Amended Settlement filed in Authors Guild v. Google creates a non-profit Book Rights Registry governed by authors and publishers to oversee the settlement on their behalf. A Fairness Hearing has been scheduled for February 18, 2010; authors have until January 28, 2010 to opt out of the agreement. The SFWA is objecting to (among other things) Google’s potential monopoly, to the opt-out clause, and to leaving the fair use dispute (pdf) unresolved. The ALA, ARL and ACRL have some similar concerns (pdf) and have released a Guide for the Perplexed (pdf). The NWU opposes it; so does the ASJA. (previously, previously).

Mirrored from my post here.

I guarantee whatever story you’re about to tell I have heard a hundred times

I’m having a bad couple of months what with family illness and the stress of a new job and the car accident on 9-11 that gave me pretty severe whiplash, so my online presence has constricted considerably to what seemed necessary, but I’m coming back now. Things are good, too: I’ve discovered Poetry Free-for-all and have written some solid poems. And have been enjoying Discovery and Mutemath (Peg, this is the band Vienna Teng said she was obsessed with) and xkcd and my homegirl Kate Beaton and my new status as one of the world’s most personable editors.

Anyway I have run across some really fine work while I’ve been quiet here:

Not Lorca’s Green

Perhaps this has already been done, perhaps it is tasteless, but it is what I needed to write, and I only half believe those detractions may be true. Modified triolets are the only way I can parse the news.

Do you recall when Michael Jackson died?
The crowds, their rhythmic fists, the scenes
of Tehran bleeding in a sea of green?
That Neda Agha-Soltan died
for a democracy the whole world had denied?
We listen but that bridges no divide.
Do you recall when Michael Jackson died?
Tehran, bleeding, in a sea of green.

Monster Bowl

Since Peg mentioned it, I took a stab at a poem inspired by the feast-bowl.

I’m ambivalent about it, although it felt like real writing.

I stayed to play with shells
to float the leaves downstream
to find what dusk means
to an adult. The darkness twists
its hands around me
covering my every breath
with canine step or howl
the sound of wings on air
the air-shake as the tree
beside me shivers with a predator.
The moon comes up
and in the brightness I see home
until the light fills in
with teeth and claw
and opens wider, grinning, hungry,
singing that all children
taste so beautiful in flight, in fear.

Introduction – Mary Alexandra Agner

I’m overdue on my fortnightly post. I’m recovering from another bout with my parents telling me my poems don’t make sense to them. I’m learning how to deal with the fact that I keep quitting.

My worries are subjective. They eat into the facts as though they were chocolate chips cookies, Friday afternoon, latch-key kid home and warm. Between the holes: I poet, I dance, I cajole prose from busy and reluctant scientists and engineers for money. (I tend to iambs, once I’ve started.)

I’m here to find out why I love so little poetry. I couldn’t live without writing it but lack appreciation for others’ work.

I recommend most of Nancy Willard‘s work, and Emily Dickinson’s, and Constance Merritt‘s, and Elizabeth Hadaway‘s.

I leave you with lines by Abbie Huston Evans:

—Here, take them, Emily, they hurt

In telling; can you bear

To hear of elderberries, skirt

The coasts of sun and air?

Know all that hurt you once hurts still.

Need any tell you how

Night brings the moon, dawn finds the hill?

Want you such hurting now?

the line is varied

Googling “vary the line” brings up this patent description: “A bite indicator is described comprising a body (10) to be mounted on a fishing rod support, a rigid arm (24) pivotably mounted relative to the body (10) and releasably connectable at point spaced from the pivot axis to the line of a fishing rod resting on the support, and means (26) for resiliently applying an adjustable torque to the arm (24) to enable an adjustable force to be applied by the arm to the fishing line.” There’s a poem in there somewhere. Or operating instructions for writing one.