One day this past summer, I took out Mary Oliver’s Selected Poetry Vol. II and began to read on the train.
In between poems and that magnificent flickering sunlight only train windows create with such consistency, it suddenly occurred to me that I was reading poetry.
Most will know that I now write poetry, and probably assume that my love for poetry is a given. But truthfully, reading and writing poetry was not always a restful practice. As someone whose interest in poetry came about through my studies, I have to say it was hard to make the leap from reading for school to reading for leisure. Poetry was associated with analysis, meticulous close reading for deconstruction, and the arduous process of constructing essay theses.
John Hollander, Swan and Shadow
Poetry is often a daunting genre to access, considered by most to be either too heavy and difficult to understand, or an overrated, overanalyzed slightly pretentious field.
I can understand the reaction. Most people have dropped it after high school where they had to read it, or have forgotten the oral recitations that made up part of their childhood. When reading poetry as an adult, it is easy to either feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed by formalistic elements, difficult language and seemingly obscure meaning.
When I first started reading, there were moments where I felt the same way. But reading poetry is like a working out a specific set of muscles, or getting to know that person who is slow to warm up. What reading poetry needs, (or arguably reading in general) is time. The more time I spend with the poets through my anthologies, collections, lectures and essays, the more I discover the charisma of the oldest genre of writing in human history.
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Illustrated by Julian Peters
What I have come to love about my journey through poetry is that it is constantly reshaping and reorienting. I started reading the most popular, standard canon works (think Dickinson, Frost, Poe, Shakespeare) and then began to reach back into the past to remember my childhood recitations of Chinese Poetry and went on to study it formally, from the Pre-Qin through to the Tang Dynasty. I have read Renaissance poetry, poetry criticism, the Romantics, the American poets, tackled Pound and Eliot, and all this time my viewpoint has continued to evolve. Eventually I found the POC writers, and my life was changed indefinitely.
A Garden of Anchors, Joy Kogawa
Inventory, Dionne Brand
Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light, Cyril Wong
Soul’s Festival, Anne Lee Tzu Pheng
I am still putting myself out there, searching for voices that might do something to me. I have been discovering the contemporary poetry scene and it excites and rejuvenates me. There are big things ahappenin’ in this genre so old and yet so fresh.
As a poet, my voice doesn’t grow in isolation, although it is very much nurtured in solitude.
I am trying daily to affirm the presence of my own voice. This is why I choose to continue to read and listen to the poetry of other voices. My voice has to grow in solidarity with others, and in community with others who share my love for this calling. Choosing means spending time, means reflecting, means carrying their books with me in my bag, their words in my consciousness as I live, and slowly, like creeper vines I find their significance, tendrils of truth-telling wrapped around my heart.
For those who are afraid to approach the genre because of “inaccessibility”, there are voices growing even here and now, shaping spaces for themselves that are relevant and important, writers who write with an energy from the margins. There is truth raw and expansive, and I think the poets have always tried to take hold of it. It is how we exercise our humanity. Come, sit, listen, feel, live.