Copying poetry

Despite my insane love of literature, I have never been the biggest fan of studying poetry.  Give me a novel, and I’ll dissect it like no other.  But ask me to analyze a poem, and I get nervous.  Don’t ask me why, but poetry and the mystique surrounding it has always intimidated me.  Poetry is supposed to be deep and meaningful, and so I always feel completely inadequate trying to pick apart its nuances.  No matter what, I always feel like I’m missing something; I don’t know whether I should focus on the words or the form.  Are the two related?  What is the poet trying to say?  Does it even matter?

Since I never acquired the knack for this kind of interpretation, my answer is usually, “I don’t care.”  But just because studying poetry in a classroom setting has never been my thing, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it immensely.  In fact, poetry is my secret literary lover;  I’m not quite comfortable going public, but it’s a practice I relish in the privacy of my imagination.  The confluence of words and sounds, the rhythm and harmony of ideas and images–poetry can be so beautiful at times, it can make you want to cry and laugh all at once.  Plus, I believe that poetry can be appreciated and enjoyed, even if one doesn’t fully understand it.  Sometimes it’s the poems that leave us staggering, eyes agape, hearts wondering, that are the best.

For this reason, I have made an effort to include poetry into my everyday life.  Every morning, while getting ready for the day, I read one poem from a volume I keep on my dresser, Good Poems by Garrison Keillor.  It’s a collection of poems heard on the Writer’s Almanac radio show, written by a variety of amazing poets.  They’re usually short, but always heart-warming and thought-provoking: a great way to wake up.  They bring a sense of calm to my mind in the morning, and give me perspective on my day.

About five years ago, I also began coyping my favorite poems and passages into a blank notebook.  I had received the notebook at the end of junior high by a teacher and my Power of the Pen writing coach.  It’s nothing more than anything you might buy at Wal-Mart, but the cover said “Dreams and Realities,” and so I knew it would be perfect filled with poetry.  It’s not nearly full enough–indicative of how little poetry I read relative to the amount of fiction–but during the years I’ve filled it with the words of Shakespeare, Byron and scads of poets I barely knew before I stumbled across their works.  Of course, I have to copy all these poems by hand, and I try to do so in handwriting that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to revisit later.  I like the idea of my children finding this notebook someday, and being just as inspired by those words as I was.  I believe that if we make enough of an effort, these little things define us, and I like the idea of poetry defining some small part of my life.

But the journey is just as rewarding as the result.  Copying poetry is an act I believe many serious readers or lovers of literature don’t practice anymore; an antiquated practice made unfashionable by the “copy and paste” function.  Copying poetry gives the reader the chance to slow down their reading, to relish each word as you seek to preserve them for yourself.  It’s hard work, and slow work if you find a particularly long poem (I’m currently working on copying the entirety of Walt Whitman’s “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” It’s a long one).   But I firmly believe any chance to slow down my day and enjoy the beauty of words is reason enough.

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