Thursday, July 17, 2008

Good Poetry Brings Folks Together

My coworkers are smart. One especially loves to talk to me about books and good food and crafting--she's fun to work with and hang out with. Today, we began discussing this NY Times article about the new poet laureate. I'd never heard of Kay Ryan, so I read the article with some interest, and flipped through a few of her poems they included with the article. I liked them; they were pretty good. I prepared to not think about them again.

It wasn't until I started discussing them with my coworker, however, that these poems came alive. They held a richness I hadn't discovered until I reread them and talked about them. For me, literary analysis (especially on poetry) always emerges after I talk about the work. I shouldn't be surprised that Ryan's poetry would be any different, but I was amazed at the meaning I was able to dig out of her words just by having a conversation.

Here was the one we discussed in particular (I read it out loud for my coworker, which led to further discussion--Ryan's poems are rhythmic, and that rhythm is inherent to what the poem is, but it's hard to hear rhythm unless you physically hear it.):


Their green flanks
and swells are not
flesh in any sense
matching ours,
we tell ourselves.
Nor their green
breast nor their
green shoulder nor
the languour of their
rolling over.

The poem rolls like hills, and the images it evokes are wonderful. I'm fond of poetry that has a certain physical feel, and Ryan's work is often about the physical and the material, like "Things Shouldn't Be So Hard," which longs for physical indications of an individual no longer present, but things are too hard, too durable, for one person to leave their mark upon them. It's beautiful.

Okay, enough gushing about poetry. My main point is that I'm now a fan of Kay Ryan, and that discussing poetry with other people makes it alive in my mind. I need to remember that when I go to teach kids how to read poetry... I'm such a verbal person that it's often not until I've talked about something that I understand it fully.

If you're interested in more of Kay Ryan's work, go here.

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