In the Kornfield

In his preface to the book How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, author Edward Hirsch states “Reading poetry is endangered, I suppose, because reading itself is endangered in our culture now.” As we observe National Poetry Month 2024, I thought a few comments from Hirsch’s book would be of interest.

This book (my edition has a 1999 copyright on it) is rich with observations about poetry in general and about learning to read poetry with enthusiasm and understanding. He calls poetry “a collision, a collusion, a compression of two unlike things:  A is B.” Yes!

The question begs to be asked:  should everyone fall in love with poetry? That’s a question which deserves contemplation because the answer ends up being …  maybe. I’ve read some books which read like exquisite poetry. I’ve also read poetry which was jarring and unintelligible (other than obvious line breaks which signaled a sort-of poetry).

In my view, when it comes to poetry, personal tastes almost always enter in. Should I read a poem which blasts me with ugliness and four-letter words? Like many people, I’ll likely pass. Hirsch states, “When I recite a poem I reinhabit it, I bring the words off the page into my own mouth, my own body.” For me personally, tastes shouldn’t welcome corruption.

In his chapter titled Beyond Desolation (chapter 7, about halfway through the book), Hirsch takes up the sonnet form. He addresses one particular sonnet from a series of “terrible sonnets” written by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). The sonnet is powerful, the expression of a man feeling deep desolation.

Unlike Hopkins, I have (thankfully) suffered no such desperation in my life. A post I wrote long ago is titled Adieu, Tormented Poet and includes a sonnet which begins “I’ll never be a poet – this I know. I’m lacking in the requisite despair …”

That’s me … which brings me to the sonnet below. I’m rarely forlorn or dejected except as related to my particular preferences in the construction of a sonnet. Then, like the guys on Hee-Haw, I’m plunged into gloom, despair and agony on me.all in the spirit of lightheartedness, of course!

Unruly, a sonnet

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