How to Love a Poem

From Ada Limón at Poetry Foundation:

Because I work outside of the academic field, I don’t get the opportunity to teach very often, but when I do, I’m surprised by how many people read poems as if they can have only one meaning. In my own experience, I find it nearly impossible to hear the beauty and meditative joy of a poem’s lines, or the sensual sounds of a syllable, when I’m reading solely for narrative sense. So, I’ve come to think that one of the first things to learn about poetry is to simply relax in its mystery. We need to learn that a poem can have many meanings and that it can be enjoyed without a complete understanding of the
poet’s intent. On a good day a poem might bring you great joy, on a tough day, the same poem might reveal great agony, but the poem hasn’t changed—it’s what you have brought to the poem that has changed. The more you read a poem, the more time you spend with it, read it out loud to yourself or to others, the more it will open to you—start to wink and flirt and let you in. A poem is a complex living thing, its multiple edges and many colors are what makes this singular art form so difficult to define. There is an ancient Chinese Proverb that says, “A bird sings not because he has an answer, but because he has a song.” That is how I have come to think about poetry—that a poem isn’t a problem to solve, but rather it’s a singular animal call that contains multiple layers of both mystery and joy.

My goodness I love that.  To sing not because you have an answer, but because you have a song …

This is from a longer essay, “Mystery and Birds: Five Ways to Practice Poetry”, here

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