We spent yesterday driving from the Connecticut River Valley to Lowell, Massachusetts. Glorious day, clouds drawn by addled cloud chasers, plenty of leaf peeping colors still flying around, good company, good conversation, a quick survey of which reveals: what constitutes emotional extortion in poetry....when is one officially reclusive, nominally misanthropic, selfish, solitary, self-protective, gregarious, unguarded....by what means does one choose between what is made public, what is kept private......in poetry can one tell when what's of interest to you (form & subject, form in subject, subject in form), might also be of interest to someone else.....and when it's not....and when it's important for one to be quiet.
"The Grade School Angels" (Raphael Alberti, translated by Mark Strand) once sat on a poetry in motion placard on our kitchen table for months on end. Its existence the result of a project that installed poems on the River Valley's extensive bus system. We never talked about it but I suppose everyone who sat at our kitchen table read Alberti's poem now and then, and some few again and again.
Several years ago, after another trip to Lowell, Massachusetts (one in which I had the good fortune to judge the Jack Kerouac Poetry Contest which afforded me my one opportunity to visit with Allen Ginsberg in person, this was a lot of fun), I moved "The Grade School Angels" from the kitchen table, thinking or maybe not thinking the poem had been sitting there long enough. The next morning one of our family members said, "Where's the poem?" I said, "I thought it'd been there long enough." She said, "Put it back, I read that poem every day." Which made apparent exactly why projects such as poetry in motion have been admired and wanted.
I think she'd grown to love this poem because it had become part of her daily, ordinary, ritual-inflected, on-going life. What she experienced was not the same as the kind of re-readings we're commonly admonished we must undertake in order to understand (or "get") a poem. Her experiences with the poem were not part of an adventure in analysis or research or scholarship. The poem could be sort of like the milk in her coffee, or water in a glass, or rain, one material piece of evidence upon which light could shine, evidence, that at least in this manifestation of this world, everything is touching. And because it took place at our kitchen table here is Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (translated by M.F.K. Fisher): ....for one of the strongest of human laws is that which commands respect for the life of any man with whom one has shared bread and salt.
We watched a little girl put this puzzle together. She didn't care at all to look at the cut out shapes that are what, in fact, literally, inescapably, make this material a puzzle. All she cared about was finding an eye, finding another eye, seeing those eyes pretty much on a face where one ordinarily pictures eyes going, finding part of a nose, finding more of a nose, fitting the nose parts together by how they look, never referring even once to the cut-outs or cutter patterns which keep a puzzle what it is. She was practicing one kind of reading style. Her looking for meaning in her seeing her puzzle's pieces remained true to her previously experienced ideas of what constitutes the face of an animal. That's one way. Testing what reinforces a near understanding.
So many reading styles exist, just a few them:
friendly reading, competitive reading (offensive & defensive), strategic reading, restorative reading, haphazard reading, subjective reading, combative reading, aggressive reading, passive reading, mystical reading, high velocity reading, skeptical reading, luxurious reading, necessary reading, incendiary reading, idle reading, perfunctory reading, phrenological reading, sanity-inducing reading, distracting reading, contingent reading, impressive reading, oppressive reading, interpretative reading, lip-reading, collaborative reading, occult reading, arrousing reading, banner reading, palm reading, serendipitous reading, gesture reading, oracle reading, manifest reading, superficial reading, fault-finding reading, sleep-inducing reading, oppositional reading, violent reading, perserverance reading, unexpected reading, sublime reading, discriminating reading, grave reading, emergency reading, compliant reading, sensuous reading, mindless reading, unself-conscious reading, mis-reading, miserly reading, hyper-reading, selective reading, hallicinatory reading, dream reading, unconscious reading, life-saving reading and so on and so on.