Reflections on a resolution to read a poem a day

7 September 2013

For 2012, I made a resolution to read a poem every day: I like poems; I should read more of them. I kept it up through 2012 and well into 2013, before finally succumbing – not wanting to read another poem about divorce in Sharon Olds’ Stag’s Leap at the end of a busy day. But I have learnt things: not least how simple it is, if you want to, to read a poem. There are lots of them! There are lots of short ones! The internet is full of them! And there is plenty of poetry – just buy some books and put them by your bed and then actually pick them up. If you read a poem that does nothing for you, that’s fine; don’t feel guilty or the necessity to have to do it critical justice: tomorrow you might read something lovely. Whereas otherwise I really am interested in the serious, in-depth analysis of literature, this resolution allowed me to focus on a more instinctual feeling for poems.

This blog was intended to record some of the arresting or calming or witty or stimulating poems I came across as a result of my new reading; and, as something of an evangelist, or at least apologist for the potential role of poetry in anyone’s life, the focus is on short work that can fit into the day. Poetry doesn’t have to be life changing – sometimes a poem might just make you smile. That’s enough (and I think Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch would agree).  At least, enough to begin with, or for most days.

The blog was therefore also a reason to keep reading on – to find new things I wanted to put here. Gradually other favourite poems crept in, things I knew before. One of the significant reasons for eventually failing the resolution was that it had always really been a resolution to read something new, something I hadn’t read before – to go and search out some of the big names I hadn’t read, and actually buy new work too (as such, buying winners or nominees for the major prizes – the Forward, T. S. Eliot, and the like – became an easy shortcut around actually being ‘on the pulse’ of new work; anybody following those prizes would probably be unsurprised by much of the work here). But then I realised I wanted to go and reread things, enjoy things in a different way – pick Human Chain back off the shelf, and see what I remembered, what I had forgotten. Posting a Heaney poem the day before he died is now, for me, a small but memorable coincidence, and will ensure I remember a more personal attachment to his work – the sort that can fade less than a mere opinion when a poet truly passes on into the public domain.

It has been, therefore, quite a productive and enjoyable New Year’s Resolution. One of the better ones.

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