My son's 11th grade language arts teacher told the students that, because they were 16 or 17, they could write a love sonnet. My son worked on this all weekend. Sunday night, I asked him if he had finished it. He said that he had—but that it was not about love, exactly. It was about toast. His first line: I can handle toast.
In a previous post, I talked a little bit about my poetry goals. The other day, I was discussing them with someone (probably with at least a little frustration), and he asked me this: If I achieved them—or even some of them—how would I feel? Would it change who I am? Hmmm...
This past week, I've been reading Fence Above the Sea, by Brigitte Byrd (Ahsahta Press). Most of the poems in the book are in prose poem, or short short, format. They have a stream of consciousness feeling, and they carry through and return to certain phrases, certain themes. They also weave phrases of French (I plan to go back and reread them when I have my dictionary nearby).
The resulting images are tactile and surreal at the same time, and I find the work inspiring. It's so different from the poems that I've been writing, and I can feel myself being nudged into a new direction.
To me, this is the value of reading—and reading work in a variety of styles and voices. I might try on someone else's style, an exercise used in writing classes. It's fun to bust out and do something unfamiliar. It gives me a chance to explore other parts of myself and other ways that I can express that self. And even if the poem starts out sounding like the poet, it will change as I revise it. It will, for better or worse, become mine. It's just good to stretch.
How do you stretch? What are you reading?