How To Enjoy Poetry

How to Enjoy Poetry
Created by Jennifer Kiley
Abstract Digital Art by j. kiley
Post Created 03.18.13
Posted 03.18.13

abstract bubbles by j. kiley © jennifer kiley 2013

How to Enjoy Poetry
“Poetry makes possible the deepest kind of personal possession of the world.”

“True poetic practice implies a mind so miraculously attuned and illuminated that it can form words, by a chain of more-than coincidences, into a living entity.” Edward Hirsch wrote in “How to read a poem.”

How does one foster the growth of such a “true poetic practice”? In an essay titled “How to Enjoy Poetry,” found in the same treasure trove that gave us Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 timeless rules of writing, I included in an earlier post, the 1985 anthology “How to Use the Power of the Printed Word” — James Dickey, the poet and novelist presents us with some enlightening and well spoken advice on just that subject on “How to Enjoy Poetry.”

I will allow James Dickey to speak in his own words as much as possible. At the beginning, he starts by saying:

“What is poetry? And why has it been around so long? When you really feel it, a new part of you happens, or an old part is renewed, with surprise and delight at being what it is.

Exploring your connection with other imaginations and the mystical quality of creativity.”

abstract ichter by j. kiley © jennifer kiley 2013

James Dickey continues to write:

“The first thing to understand about poetry is that it comes to you from outside you, in books or in words, but that for it to live, something from within you must come to it and meet it and complete it. Your response with your own mind and body and memory and emotions gives a poem its ability to work its magic; if you give to it, it will give to you, and give plenty.”

In James Dickey’s writing on this subject he takes to task E.B. Whites’ famous statement: “that the writer should seek to lift the reader up, placing an equal responsibility on the reader…”

James Dickey continues:

“When you read, don’t let the poet write down to you; read up to him. Reach for him from your gut out, and the heart and muscles will come into it, too.”

abstract water colours by j. kiley © jennifer kiley 2013

I interrupt with a remark from Virginia Woolf’s her timeless and memorable meditation on how to read a book, “The poet is always our contemporary.” Dickey reminds us of an eternal quality of poetry with a lovely metaphor, revealing the heart of what makes poetry so profoundly personal and so infinitely connective:

“The sun is new every day, the ancient philosopher Heraclitus said. The sun of poetry is new every day, too, because it is seen in different ways by different people who have lived under it, lived with it, responded to it. Their lives are different from yours, but by means of the special spell that poetry brings to the fact of the sun, everybody’s sun; yours, too, you can come into possession of many suns: as many as men and women have ever been able to imagine. Poetry makes possible the deepest kind of personal possession of the world.”

sea cloud sunset by j.kiley © jennifer kiley 2013

Dickey discusses where to start:

“The beginning of your true encounter with poetry should be simple. It should bypass all classrooms, all textbooks, courses, examinations and libraries and go straight to the things that make your own existence exist: to your body and nerves and blood and muscles. Find you own way, a secret way that just maybe you don’t know yet, to open yourself as wide as you can and as deep as you can to the moment, the now of your own existence and the endless mystery of it, and perhaps at the same time to one other thing that is not you, but is out there: a handful of gravel is a good place to start. So is an ice cube. What more mysterious and beautiful interior of something has there ever been?”

He suggests a place to begin which is equally practical and poetic:

“As for me, I like the sun, the source of all living things, and on certain days very good-feeling, too. ‘Start with the sun,’ D. H. Lawrence said, ‘and everything will slowly, slowly happen.’ Good advice. And a lot will happen.

What is more fascinating than a rock, if you really feel it and look at it, or more interesting than a leaf?

Horses, I mean; butterflies, whales;

Mosses, and stars; and gravelly

Rivers, and fruit.

Oceans, I mean; black valleys; corn;

Brambles, and cliffs; rock, dirt, dust, ice.

Go back and read this list. It is quite a list. Item by item. Slowly. Let each of these things call up an image out of your own life.

Think and feel. What moss do you see? Which horse? What field of corn? What brambles are your brambles? Which river is most yours?”

abstract waves by j. kiley © jennifer kiley 2013

Dickey defends the mystical of rhythm with conviction. It is so similar to that of a magnificent singer.

Dickey continues to write:

“Part of the spell of poetry is the rhythm of language, used by poets who understand how powerful a factor rhythm can be, how compelling and unforgettable. Almost anything put into rhyme is more memorable than the same thing in prose. Why this is, no one knows completely, though the answer is surely rooted far down in the biology by means of which we exist; in the circulation of the blood that goes forth from the heart and comes back, and in the repetition of breathing.”

Dickey feels it is of the utmost importance to learn poetry by writing poetry:

love song rilke by j. kiley (c) jennifer kiley 2013

“The more your encounter with poetry deepens, the more your experience of your own life will deepen, and you will begin to see things by means of words, and words by means of things.

You will come to understand the world as it interacts with words, as it can be re-created by words, by rhythms and by images. You’ll understand that this condition is one charged with vital possibilities. You will pick up meaning more quickly, and you will create meaning, too, for yourself and others.

Connections between things will exist for you in ways that they never did before. They will shine with unexpectedness, wide-openness, and you will go toward them, on your own path. …something you never would have noticed before.”

beautiful sunset shore by j. kiley © jennifer kiley 2013

beautiful sunset shore by j. kiley © jennifer kiley 2013

Rachmaninov — Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor


“Poetry makes possible the deepest kind of personal possession of the world.” – unknown

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.” ― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”
― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”
― Victor Hugo

“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.”
― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.” ― Plato

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
― E.E. Cummings

“I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.

I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.

I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,

and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
Like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.”
― Pablo Neruda

“What is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life.” ― Walt Whitman

“Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.” ― Kahlil Gibran

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”
― Robert Frost

“Always be a poet, even in prose.”
― Charles Baudelaire

“Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone.”
― Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Americus, Book I

“You only live twice:
Once when you’re born
And once when you look death in the face.”
― Ian Fleming, You Only Live Twice

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
― T.S. Eliot

“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters…But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you chose. But get drunk.” ― Charles Baudelaire

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?” ― Emily Dickinson, Selected Letters

“Have you ever lost yourself in a kiss? I mean pure psychedelic inebriation. Not just lustful petting but transcendental metamorphosis when you became aware that the greatness of this being was breathing into you. Licking the sides and corners of your mouth, like sealing a thousand fleshy envelopes filled with the essence of your passionate being and then opened by the same mouth and delivered back to you, over and over again – the first kiss of the rest of your life. A kiss that confirms that the universe is aligned, that the world’s greatest resource is love, and maybe even that God is a woman. With or without a belief in God, all kisses are metaphors decipherable by allocations of time, circumstance, and understanding”
― Saul Williams, , said the shotgun to the head.