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« HOW THE DARK GETS OUT by Michael Lally | Main | "tight" [by Raven Jackson] »

January 24, 2014


I have read this post several times over the last few days. I keep thinking of commenting and deciding against it. I love the lively discussion of the canon. But I stop every time at the comment about the graduate students who have not read any poems, and I think of how often people tell me they like to write but not to read.
And it makes sense to me, oddly. Writing, I think, is like drawing or dancing. One enjoys/longs for some kind of self-expression. There is so much joy in the simple act of committing something to paper. I think how I used to watch my father paint, and he worked with such concentration. I got such a thrill - seeing a meadow out there become a meadow on the canvas. But more the that, there was something beautiful in how the act of painting transformed him, his mood, his sense of self. He became a more pleasant human. So what am I saying?

I guess I wonder sometimes if we have it wrong. If perhaps--About poetry we are all wrong.
The Old Masters, how little they understood the human disposition.
Because, well . . .
I think we secretly long for some miraculous birth. Some sprouting of wings, maybe even just
a chance to see or even be a boy falling out of the sky.
We don't necessarily just want to be eating or skating through life
or ploughing or sailing away, ignoring the cries . . .
But we don't admit it.

Maybe all I am saying is that I think writing is a little like a studio art.

But then there is the canon. And reading.
I would like to assume that as one writes more, one reads more. Of course, that is probably wishful thinking. But as far as envy of great poems, or your student saying she was sad when she read one, I can still remember reading Antarctic Traveller ages ago when it just came out, and feeling awash with something between love and sorrow, thinking I would never be able to write so well. Of course, then I just read it again.

Very well put! Of course, it leaves people like me--those who want students exposed to a very wide range of literature and find the traditional canon a bit stuffy but who have no use for race and gender quotas--without a side in the debate. Sadly, that's true.
The great comfort is that I come from the country of the readers. All my close friends read for pleasure. We exchange book and author recommendations year round, and books themselves on birthdays and Christmas. It's not a mythical place, but it is a little sparsely inhabited. If K-12 teachers--especially middle school and high school English teachers--could rid themselves of the notion that reading was a sort of medicine, and that students who don't care for The Yearling or Great Expectations are somehow morally deficient, my country might have more citizens. The odds are against me, but I am not without hope. After all, I have Kipling and Heinlein, Dorothy Sayers and Leigh Brackett on my side.

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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