Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fear of Poetry (and Other Phobias)

I attended an Art Bar poetry reading which featured three poets including the poetry of Karen Mulhallen, a friend. I can’t tell you how intimidating these proceedings seem to me at times. I repeatedly say to Karen that I am “afraid” of poetry and am reluctant to judge it (in terms of its quality) and I am only half joking. I am a little (afraid that is).

When Karen finished reading from her new book Sea Horses, her other friends present, all well versed, well educated, established writers and/or professors, were remarking on the poems - her allusions to the poetry of Al Purdy, her references to The Odyssey, the clever alliteration used, etc … I could only sheepishly murmur “That was lovely” (and it was - and sensuous and imaginative too).

I enjoyed the first reader, Steve McCabe, as well; his work was erotic and strange but appealingly so, accompanied by moody music and these odd, bright illustrations projected on to a screen which added a great deal to the reading I thought. The third reader, a spoken word artist Andrea Thompson, was young, energetic and fun - all three were so different, all three moved me in different ways.

And that’s the problem for me I think … I can only seem to respond on an emotional level to poetry. My instincts are so primitive, so unrefined, so uncerebral, that I can only think to myself “I like it or don’t like it, it moves me or it doesn’t.” I can’t analyze why the damn things work, why they move me (or don’t move me) or how they are put together, why they don’t seem to be well formed, etc … When I talk to poets/friends about this they always reassure me that this visceral reaction is fine.

But somehow I don’t think so. I think appreciation of poetry requires more than that. This hearkens back to my “What you get away with” blog a while ago … Just because I like it does that make it “good”? Does it make it art? No, I don’t think so. Am I afflicted? Am I unable to decipher the secret code that poetry sometimes appears to be to the neophyte? Am I afraid to like poetry? Am I still that unsophisticated working class kid from Hamilton with a chip on her shoulder who is afraid to use multi-syllabic words because her high school friends will think she’s a dork (nice friends eh?).

Even now, when my dear Mama who "calls it as she sees it" telephones I never tell her that I am reading instead I lie and say I’m cooking dinner, cleaning up, etc … never reading, because I still vividly recall her exasperation with my reading habits and her sense that it was a waste of time (mine and hers). I still hide books from certain friends(?) who only have caustic comments about the thickness or, seemingly to their eyes, complex nature of the reading material and often greet me with the exclamation “Aren’t we ambitious?” with a malicious gleam in their eye.

Am I afraid of poetry or am I afraid of not seeming to get it? I want to learn more. I just don’t know where to start. There are things I like but I am nervous to cite the poets I enjoy as I’m sure they will seem hopelessly old fashioned. See how insecure I am about this?

I enjoyed Camille Paglia’s Break, Blow, Burn subtitled Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems because I admired her energy and the enthusiasm she had for the poetry that she loved. I didn’t always agree with her reasoning but it was interesting to read what she thought was moving, emotional, beautiful.

And that’s what I’m looking for - moving, emotional, beautiful ...


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A Lit Chick said...

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