Close Reading

Has it disappeared?  The debate over whether poetry is closely read or not needs to surface more, pinch.   Recently, I  have been enrolled in a class taught by David Trinidad where we are spending each week on a different poet’s poem, as selected by the class.  We started with Tim Dlugos’ “Pretty Convincing,” a very crisp, chatty, and revealing poem. Trinidad is editing the Selected Dlugos poems so this made the discussion one of excitement, almost revival.  This last week we spent time with Jan Beatty’s latest book Red Sugar, which led us to the longer poem “Serum.”  The wild aspect of this reading was that Beatty came to our class, and sat there completely silent (as we agreed upon) while we dug through her poem for meaning.  I cannot liken this moment to many other things, but I’d venture to say it’s something like an actor sitting next to a film critic and essayist while they write their latest performance up.  Beatty was very cool about the whole project and it was great to see how one’s work can be interpreted so differently and from outside the boundaries the writer may have envisioned in the writing of the piece.  After all, it can easily be said that if one knows what they are writing about, then the poem will not succeed as much for the reader.  This, being only a scrap of exactly what I mean and what, if we begin to speak more, can be extracted.

The point I want to get to, and hope to extrapolate, is that two types of close readers seem to exist:  one is the student who is forced to find meaning, the other the admirer/critic who is invested.  The typical reader, especially in poetry, is most likely another poet, a poet who is, because of an undying closeness to language, usually content leaving a poem right after the first read.  This is due to how much a small arrival of imagery or an entanglement of verbs/syntax/content can be enough for a poet.   Yet I’d argue that there is a very important close reader not readily associated with these other two and that is the friend/family member.  It is entirely likely that the people we grew up with, or family members, who may know very little about what we are doing in our work, will take the time to read our material deeply and in doing so sustain the value of close reading.  Something I have for years almost forgotten about.

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