One day, we dared a poetry-averse friend to read a poem a day. And we watched her, with the help of a faithful poetry buddy, move beyond poking at poetry with a sharp stick to sitting down together for tea and chocolate. Well, we’ve issued a brand new Poetry Dare to Sandra Heska King. Sandra is no complete stranger to poetry, so we had to up the ante just a bit.
“We’d like you to read not just a poem a day but a poem from one particular poet a day. (That is, the same poet every day.) And that poet, for reasons we have yet to discover, is T.S. Eliot.”
I narrowed my eyes at the email. For reasons we have yet to discover . . . I smell a fish. Or maybe a peach. I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact they carry the same initials?
“We think Tania Runyan’s new How to Read a Poem will be a great companion for you along the way, and we’ll send you a copy for your good-natured willingness to go along with the fun little things we dream up at Tweetspeak.”
Fun? I like fun.
Read a poem a day from T.S. Eliot, the Tweetspeak editor wrote (I’m paraphrasing now) and then write about the experience in whatever way unfolds naturally for you.
“So. What do you think? Double-dog dare you.”
I take some time to wonder. Do I dare? Do I dare? Do I dare to eat this peach and let the juice of embarrassment run down my chin (the same chin from which my hairdresser yanked out a stray hair the other day, and I was mortified)? Should I admit I’ve never (no, not never—just not that I can remember) read T.S. Eliot? How does T.S. Poetry know this?
But in this moment there is time, and it will be worthwhile before I grow old and wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled and before the Footman snickers.
Besides I have two dogs. And who can resist a double-dog dare?
So I say, “Yes, I’ll hang out with this guy for a month, more or less, and see what comes of it.”
T.S. slips some toast and tea and marmalade and peaches in a survival sack. And they tuck in Tania, and I think there might be cheese in the bottom somewhere.
I curl up with my cats and open my library book to the first assignment, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
Is Prufrock a real name? Is there some kind of literary catch to this that I’m not catching? And dude, I thought T.S. was a Christian guy, but he’s hanging out in a red light district?
And suddenly I’m in high school English lit class, and my heart is pounding, and my palms are sweating, and I don’t have a clue. I’m sure this Tweetspeak editor has made a mistake.
I turn to Tania. “Whatever your story, ” she writes, “I’m going to try to trick you into becoming a better reader of poetry by having fun.” She uses a Billy Collins poem to talk about light and sound and mice and mazes and aha moments and skiing and just letting a poem be.
I take a deep breath and begin again.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table.
An operating room. That’s part of my story. I know something about etherized (I’d say anesthetized) patients. I’ve been one, and I’ve taken care of many. I hold that image in my mind and decide it doesn’t have anything to do with an evening spread out against a sky. Or does it? Etherised patients lie very, very still. (Is this simply a still evening?) They’ve given over control so something in them can be fixed.
I ponder this for a moment, and I decide to be with this poem. To give up control and just pay attention to it and let it pay attention to me, as Tania suggests.
As I enter into this dare, I’ll vow to have some fun. And maybe, somehow, if I lie very, very still over the next 30 days, the words of this poet will fix something in me. What that could be remains to be discovered.
Give yourself a Poetry Dare.
Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In January, we’re exploring the theme Doors and Passageways.
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