I Read Somewhere

What rhymes with rhyme?

"In his (Billy Collins) poem “Introduction to Poetry,” he writes:  “all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope/and torture a confession out of it./They begin beating it with a hose/to find out what it really means.” The point of reading a poem is not to try to “solve” it."

{From 'Why Teaching Poetry Is So Important' by Andrew Simmons, The Atlantic, April 8 2014}

We've all come out of twelve years of our school education with hundreds of lines of poetry in our systems- English/Hindi/Marathi/French and whatever other regional languages you studied. I don't remember most of them, but the ones I do recall seem like puzzles we had to decipher, or stories just written in a haphazard fashion (I'll never forget the grim story behind the 'My Last Duchess' by Robert Browning). In the way that painting has strokes in place of words, and composition in place of sentences, poetry too has its own language. Unfortunately this language is linguistic, not auditory or visual, so poetry is taught in the same way as expository writing- we break up and mark out alliterations and metaphors and what not until what remains is a pile of rubble of poetic devices, beneath which the essence of the poem lies buried. Can anyone really enjoy a piece of music if their ears are trained only to break apart the rise and fall of the beat, the pitch/timbre/melody?

Poetry is sensual. It has no facts or truth, no justifications to make. Maybe it's like a beautiful panoramic view- its reality depends on the eyes that see it. It's so romantic that once a poem is written, it no longer belongs to the poet. It recasts itself to fit the mood of the reader or the skill of the reciter, and these may not necessarily be what the poet intended, but this myriad of construals keep poems alive even centuries later. Lovers exchange poetry, not self help books, because poems are fiercely personal objects that we as users lend our own imaginations to. Is it fair then, to teach it in schools in the same way as we would a civics lesson? Look at the fate that befell art and craft when schools began to take examinations of them. I feel worst for the poor examiner, and can't help but picture him sobbing as he grades identical watercolors of sunflower, after sunflower, after sunflower, all copied from the same piteous representation in the state approved textbook.

Teaching the arts without preserving their charm is a concern that very few of us have, because poetry nor painting are traditionally 'important' subjects. I guess it is necessary to grade every subject, but ideally I wish we didn't have to! I feel bad every time I pass poetry books on a shelf, knowing that even though I want to read so many of them, I can't do it without getting stressed at being unable to crack them open to find their 'meaning'. It shouldn't be like that. Call me old fashioned, but I think reading poetry should be about the quintessential joy of reading. And this year, I'm going to take my own advice, and become that special breed of annoying person, who reads poetry.


(Maybe enjoying poetry would be a lot easier if all poems were like this one by Lou Craft! Read it for what it is, and enjoy.)


Hummus Swirled With Harissa: A Poem

By Lou Craft
(Inspired by the line “hummus swirled with harissa” in an article by Sam Sifton, food editor at The New York Times.)

Hummus swirled with Harissa,
They frolicked and danced with delight,
He would turn to her cheeks, lightly kiss her,
One balmy, baklavian night.

The air was fragrant with cumin,
Hummus spun her around with a whoosh.
But there was a most jealous human,
By the name of Bab Aganoush.

A brute and a brat and a meanie,
Loved Harissa a long time ago.
Now his face was as white as tahini,
His garbanzos swung heavy and low.

“Cease and desist your seducing!”
And he punched Hummus smack in the head
“That puts an end to cous-cousing!”
And he left him, for sure, he was dead.

But where there is pita and shawarma,
Where eggplants and chickpeas abound,
Where kibbe, kabobs meet with karma,
Life sometimes works out all around.

Harissa and Hummus keep swirling—
Dancing closely with hip against hip,
Two dervishes spinning and whirling.
Creating a marvelous dip.

Sneha Mehta