Reading a poem for the first time

Facebook is a good thing sometimes. Came across a poem by Galway Kinnell called ‘Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight’ and it was like reading something I knew but could not articulate adequately enough. The first reading of any poem is like that- there are just words in the beginning. I like this stage of reading.

“I,like you, only sooner
than you, will go down
the path of vanished alphabets,
the roadlessness
to the other side of the darkness,

your arms
like the shoes left behind,
like the adjectives in the halting speech
of old men,
which once could call up the lost nouns.”

Then when you read again and again, synapses intervene and meaning comes out. That’s when the epiphany occurs or even disappointment.

The newness of syntax is probably what makes poetry so readable for some and unreadable for others. Syntax makes everything meaningful; it’s like the structure we give our lives. What do we do when the structure falls apart? What syntax can we salvage then? This is probably why it makes sense to read a poem everyday as the disruption of what we know is often what life is all about.

The one place poetry courses could fail is that these intervene with your first reading. The words are circled and analyzed. The meanings are made to come out, then linked to biographies of the poets who wrote them. Sometimes the analysis can take us somewhere the poem didn’t want to go.

What has your first reading of any poem been like?

© neelthemuse, 2014
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5 thoughts on “Reading a poem for the first time Leave a comment

  1. I really like this quote on the subject by the Italian author Dino Buzzati:”There’s an extremely simple way to determine if a poem is true poetry: read through it distractedly, mechanically, without putting in any effort, or even while thinking about something else. If it’s good poetry, you can be sure that something will enter into your brain, will touch you like a sharp object. For great poetry holds such a charge of vital energy that just touching it inadvertently will be enough for one to be electrocuted.”

  2. “What do we do when structure falls apart ?” So true, and yet it is from these moments of structureless-ness that creativity takes birth !

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