Near the end of the movie ET, young Elliott watches in horror as scientists enclosed in a sterile bubble and protected by Tyvek suits prepare to slice and dice into his beloved alien friend. Unable to recognize the magic of the extra-terrestrial or receive him as a gift, the researchers default to the only approach they understand. They plan to dissect and analyze him to see what made him tick.
If poetry was an alien life form—and I’m not stipulating it’s not—I might be tempted to approach it clad only in Tyvek while wielding sharp instruments.
For months I’ve quietly eavesdropped on a group of poets who gather in this corner of the internet at Tweetspeak Poetry. Every once in a while I drop by to look at what they are reading and listen to what they are saying about it. Rarely do I speak up or make my presence known. If someone notices me in the room I just stand there, smiling and nodding—a quizzical look on my face—because I have no idea what these people, these poets are talking about. Frankly, poetry scares me more than a little.
I remember when my children studied poems in high school, dissecting and analyzing the poor things stanza-by-stanza and line-by-line. They learned about meter and rhyme, and filled worksheets with stress and breve markings to delineate each iambic, trochaic, and anapestic foot. Whenever I’ve thought about dipping a big toe into the poetry pond, I’ve assumed I would need to consult those old workbooks just to help me keep my head above water.
I get bogged down by things like why poets break their lines where they do. I try to count words and syllables, attempt to feel the rhythm and find the music. I flail about as I read, seeing patterns shift and vary wildly, refusing to settle into any kind of order I can make sense of. I keep thinking maybe if the words of a poem were fitted into a spreadsheet I might be able to detect some kind of underlying structure. It might make more sense to me. I have no clue about what makes one poetic form work better than another. And when I listen to poets discussing their craft I feel as though I am hearing another language.
Then along came The Poetry Dare.
A Tweetspeak editor took note of me standing uncomfortably at the edge of the poetry circle, hands dug deep into the pockets of my Tyvek suit, and devised a little experiment, asking me to be the subject.
The hypothesis: Repeated daily exposure to poetic works may reduce symptoms of anxiety among poetry-averse readers. Under the expert guidance and supervision of poet Megan Willome, I will consume a poem a day. Megan will monitor my reactions, fully aware I may at any time break out into hives or require administration of oxygen.
I will document my results and provide occasional updates as we seek to answer the question, “Will one scientific mathematical poetry-non-lover survive the dare to read a poem a day?”
Who knows? Perhaps I may one day even make friends with this alien life form.
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