I’ve just finished up reading through six poetry books I picked up at the library three weeks ago. Two of them were LARGE volumes of anthologies. Four were works by individual authors. I’m guessing I’ve read over a thousand poems since the first of the month. I’ve been searching for new poets I like, but I learned somethings about myself as I sifted my way through all the words.
I’ve found I’m a snobbish, picky poetry reader with a very short attention span. Normally if I look at a poem that’s more than maybe ten stanzas, I think I’m automatically predisposed to not like it. It’s been difficult to find poets who write both long and short pieces.
I do NOT like poems where the placement is all over the page. If someone I KNOW is writing that way, usually I’m enough tuned in to get their drift. But with reading unfamiliar poets cold turkey, I’m mostly lost anyway and words all over the page add to the confusion for me.
I discovered that a lot of poets have a fondness for writing elegies. When I took the Writing 201 Poetry class here on WordPress, I struggled with the difference between elegies and eulogies. Finally had to look it up.
An elegy is a sad poem, usually written to praise and express sorrow for someone who is dead. Although a speech at a funeral is a eulogy, you might later compose an elegy to someone you have loved and lost to the grave.
And they write elegies to anyone or anything under the sun — whatever they have a fondness for. A lot of these poets were from the early part of last century, so elegies must have been in vogue then.
I also realized that a lot of the poems I’ve been posting, the ones written in the latter half of the 20th century, have gotten shorter and shorter, and I’m wondering why. A change in the culture? Are we living our lives in such a rush that we have to dash our thoughts off quickly and go take out the garbage? Is that’s what’s behind the resurgence in the popularity of poems like haiku and tanka?
I find it amazing that after reading all these books and that many poems I really only found 36 and one entire book (which I just ordered) that I pulled out to use for Friday Favorites. See! Picky! I guess I’m just a person who has to engage in a poem immediately to stay tuned in. If that happens, even some of the longer poems can capture my attention or imagination.
John Updike, whose poem “Dog’s Death” is my all-time favorite, was asked by his wife to write one more book as he struggled through his battle with lung cancer. Some of the poems in the book are quite long, and yet because of the immediacy of what he was going through, I was captivated. In some ways it was like knowing him. I’m going to be featuring him on Friday.
Anyhoo! I’m curious as to what other poetry lovers look for in a poem. What keeps your attention? And what puts you off? If you have a minute, please share in the comments. I’d really like to know. (And here’s a couple graphics about elegies I decided might be good to keep around.)