You never know what might happen when you start to hang out with the Tweetspeak Poetry community. Maybe, sometime, when you least expect it, you might be issued a Poetry Dare. Recently, we dared one friend to read a poem a day. Not long ago, we caught her writing a short poem on Facebook. This month, we dared Sandra Heska King to read not simply a poem every day, but read from a T. S. Eliot poem every day, with the able companionship of Tania Runyan’s How to Read a Poem.
His lines crawl across my cortex when I sit and when I walk and when I lie down and when I rise up.
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.
The ‘potamus can never reach
The mango on the mango tree.
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.
Now when she died there was silence in heaven
And silence at her end of the street.
His laughter tinkled among the teacups.
While I wash dishes, he whispers words like maisonette and miasmal mist and fugitive resentment and glazen shelves and green silence.
I can’t shake the images of brown waves of fog and daffodil bulbs staring up from eye sockets and a laughed-off head “rolling under a chair or grinning over a screen with seaweed in its hair.”
And, dear Lord, I never should have looked up “Priapus.”
Tom and I, we’ve been an item now for a couple of weeks. But had it not been for a double-dog dare and Tania’s chaperoning presence, I might have given in and given up. I might have rubbed my back upon his verse and slid away like so much yellow smoke.
Or I might have cheated after the first read and run to SparkNotes.
Years ago, after I recovered from my high school pounding heart and sweating palms, I took an English literature class at the University of South Florida. I got lost in Beowulf—a fun kind of lost. I wrote a paper on it, but the professor burned me for “reading too much into the poem.” She spoiled my fun. Re-scared and re-scarred me.
I burned that paper.
But I’m trying to play nice with T. S. Eliot. Trying to “ski” across his poems—to enjoy the sounds and sights and smells (yes, I smelled the lilacs), the rhythms and the way his words sit on the page.
Because Tania Runyan, in How to Read a Poem, has freed me to have fun again.
How freeing to know you can enjoy a poem—yes, even “just” its glittering surface—without receiving a full literary education first. The more you read and enjoy the poetry, the more the understanding and information will come as a natural outgrowth of committing yourself to the poems themselves, the most important thing.
After reading a poem out loud several times, I’ve taken to printing it off and marking it up with my Twistable pencils. I mark the characters, the rhymes and repeated words, the contrasts and comparisons, the line breaks and punctuation. It helps me commit to the poem in a different way, to see its colors in a new light. I make notes in the margins—words I remember T. S. Eliot used in other poems or thoughts I have as I read.
After allowing the poem to stand “as its own thing, ” says Tania, feel free to research.
So after I go through “Whispers of Immortality” for the 23rd time, I make note that a maisonette is a small house or an apartment on two levels and Webster is not Dan of the Dictionary. I also discover the origin of the word “webster” means “female weaver, ” which likely has nothing to do with what Eliot was thinking but makes me laugh because Grishkin reminds me of the spider who tried to lure the fly.
And I think the Managing Editor who dispatched the double-dog dare might be a webster who’s lured me into her poetry lair.
I may be still fumbling in the dark looking for a light switch.
But just so you know—I’m having fun.
Take your own Poetry Dare: Read a poem a day. In February, we’re exploring the theme Spanish Lace.