Sunday, July 12, 2009

Reading Poetry

The week began with 63 poems - the ones in my new verse novel (out in March 2010). Having received notes from the editor, it was time to sit down and read the whole manuscript a few times before responding. It's been a while - publishers have schedules and there are often months between signing a contract and working on revision and editing (not always though). It was like reading it with a fresh eye, almost as if I hadn't written it. That's an excellent way to be more critical of your own work.

Then I went through the editor's notes, and scribbled responses for myself, plus I also had another look at a few things that had leapt out at me as not working very well. Revision now will be refining and tweaking. Sometimes it might take a week to find the solution for a line that doesn't quite work. After that, I read poems as I looked for suitable examples for my symbols class on Monday. This is not a class that has studied poetry as a separate subject, but I'm not about to "baby" them either! I paused to re-read two Billy Collins' poems that feature the moon, and filed them for study in class.

Today, I did a poetry reading at Bacchus Marsh. It's the first reading like this I've done in quite a while. As I told the audience, I'm more used to school visits these days, and the challenge of engaging 40 8-year-olds. Or perhaps those 15 or so tiny pirates at the bookshop the other day. You tend to forget what it's like to have a room full of listeners who are there because they want to be, because they enjoy poetry and they are keen to engage. From me, they heard the whole range, from the verse novel for kids to a recent poem about Hong Kong. It was funny that I realised, as I neared the end of the second reading session, how much (to me) I sounded like I do when reading to a school group. I think reading pirate stories out loud, with voices and actions, has given my poetry reading more energy!

The other reader was my long-time friend, Kristin Henry, and over lunch we got onto the subject of bad poetry and obscure poetry (by obscure, we meant poems that are written to be deliberately almost impossible to understand, usually in order to look clever). I've had poetry students who wrote like this and declared that if anyone couldn't understand their poems, it was their problem! There is a difference between being difficult or challenging, and obscure. I still read poems in the Age newspaper Saturday books pages and think, What on earth is that meant to be? So they get the four-time test. If I read the poem four times, slowly and with concentration, and it is still meaningless to me, I give up. I want a poem to communicate with me, show me something new, give me something to think about. Not give me a needless headache! What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I totally agree, I love poetry, but I have to be able to understand it. Too obscure poetry doesn't appeal at all.

Sheryl Gwyther said...

I have to agree too, Sherryl. I don't mind poetry that makes me think and sometimes even think to an uncomfortable level, but it's worth it in the end.
I can't stand 'arrogant' writing. If one isn't trying to link in to the reader, one may as well just write a secret diary.