In a new essay for the Columbia University Press blog, poet and literary critic Siobhan Phillips meditates on the place of poetry among everyday things. Where does the intense, yet brief, burst of attention needed to imbibe a poem fit into the rhythm of one’s day?
How do I and others read poetry, ordinarily? I don’t mean how we comprehend or analyze it—rather and more basically, how do we take it in? How does this reading fit among other everyday activities? How should it?
Like many of you, I would venture, I tend to read poems in different ways. If it’s poetry that I will write about or teach, I read with pen in hand, notes nearby, or laptop humming. But if it’s poetry that I consume without academic purpose, I could be sitting in a chair, outside with my computer, browsing a bookstore, or paging through a journal on a bus. My attention varies in quantity and quality; some weeks I consume more poems, and some days I expend more energy on them—memorizing a stanza, say, rather than nodding and moving on. Sometimes I read everything by one writer in a continuous immersion, like a lover sequestered for a long weekend, and sometimes I read around, like a party guest moving from conversation to conversation….