Friday, September 8, 2023

Is reading POETRY like reading MATHEMATICS?

Back in June I found an interesting article online by USAToday Entertainment Editor Pamela Avila  that raises questions about how to read poetry -- questions that are similar to those asked about reading mathematics.  I offer samples below:  

Here are words from poet Clint Smith, author of new poetry collection Above Ground and writer for The Atlantic:

"Sometimes we're taught to read poetry as if it's a code that we have to unlock or that it's a puzzle or a geometric proof with a specific answer," says  "I don't think that that's what poems are or should be."  ("Counting Descent" is a mathy poem that explores Smith's family history.)

The beauty of a poem can lie in not knowing. 

"It's important to challenge myself to read things that I quote-unquote 'don't get,' " says Traci Thomas, host of the podcast and one-stop-shop for everything books, "The Stacks." "I'm obsessed with this idea of, 'Did I get it? Did I get it right?' And it's a really good exercise for me to not know. The poet is not going to come in and be like, 'Correct! A+ for you.' And that's a valuable skill set for me, to be frustrated or to be unsure." 

When you do find meaning in it, though, poetry can be restorative, revolutionary and redemptive. 

I end with the opening lines of one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012).  

      A Contribution to Statistics   by Wislawa Szymborska

           Out of every hundred people

           those who always know better:
           -- fifty-two,    

          doubting every step
          -- nearly all the rest,

          glad to lend a hand
          if it doesn't take too long:
         -- as high as forty-nine . .  .

Szymborska's complete poem is available here in this earlier posting.

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