Friday, May 6, 2016


I've been studying poetry earnestly since sometime last fall, reading as much as I can across a variety of styles and cultures.

I haven't had much formal education in poetry. I remember reading Ted Hughes, Robert Frost, John Donne, and of course Shakespeare in high school. In college I took a course in 18th century American literature which introduced me to Emily Dickinson. At some point I started reading the Austrian poet Erich Fried.

Somehow while in college I managed to get on the editorial board of a literary journal, The Siren, and so for a couple of years I was reading what my classmates were writing (and had a couple of poems published myself).

And then after college I remember frequenting an independent feminist/LGBT library in Washington, D.C. where I found some African-American women poets: Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan, and Becky Birtha.

Over the years I've kept a binder of poems I've come across that spoke to me - by poets I've named above, and a hodgepodge of others.

I used to feel limited by my lack of formal literary education, but lately - as I've been filling in the gaps (and the internet is great for this) - I've been grateful. It means all my reading is framed through the questions I have about the poems, and not what anyone thinks I ought to know about them. Most of my questions are very basic: What do I like in this poem? What don't I like? Why? And then, what else might be going on around the circumstances of writing this - historically, culturally, personally? What might this poem be responding to? And always with an eye to my own writing.

I'm lucky also to be in Chicago with the excellent Poetry Foundation just a few blocks from me at work. I've been going to their monthly Library Book Club sessions, which allows me to explore a manuscript in some depth, occasionally to hear from the author in person, and to be among other people who are thinking hard about poetry as well. The first time I went I was so excited to be part of an actual serious discussion about literature I could barely contain myself - so different from any of the book groups I've tried to be part of in the past. After a couple of sessions I can now manage to not be overwhelmed with my enthusiasm. And of course their website is a treasure trove of information.

I know my study is paying off when I can read poems and have a sense of what I might do differently, when I can look at an old poem of mine and see not only its shortcomings but also how I might make it better. And I am beginning to feel that I am developing my own voice.

I do not feel adequate to much of what I want to say, but as I study and write I trust I am becoming more so.

Ever curious, ever learning,

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