Timeless Satisfaction in Poetry
by Kitty Jospe
Since January 2014, it has been a pleasure to offer weekly reading sessions of good poems at Rundel library at noon, from September to June. The group has been as large as 50 people over the past five years, but consistently remains small and welcoming.
The format is simple: we read aloud the poem, sometimes stanza by stanza, sometimes sentence by sentence. This is followed by discussion of craft, and the impact the poem has on each person.
I am sometimes asked as poetry moderator what makes a poem “good”, which is as slippery a question as what makes a good piece of music or art. What is it we look for in a poem that goes beyond a subject that interests us, or a style we particularly enjoy? Each week, I select poems that combine the timelessness of universals balanced with particulars of craft that skillfully address being human. Even if a poem is challenging, with no immediate sense of satisfaction to some readers, after discussion there is often a sense of having engaged in a process of discovery, leaving us with a “eureka” moment (from the Greek heúrēka, meaning “aha! I have found “it”).
Sharing poetry in a group has an added advantage. Alone, we are like one of the six blind men feeling the elephant:
It’s a spear (tusk)
It’s a fan (ear)
It’s a wall (side)
It’s a rope (tail
It’s a tree (leg)
It’s a snake (trunk)
Of course, understanding “elephant” is far more than that. Where does the subjective self come in? How can we uncover a different way of seeing and sense of discovery?
I am fond of this quotation by Marcel Proust: “By art alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe, which for him is not ours.”
Some typical questions we discuss: How does title perk up interest, connect a reader to the final word? What words create an irresistible “mouth feel” as you say them?
What details help us access the big picture?
Art is one of our mirrors to help us to take on one of the large responsibilities as a human being: “to know and feel, as much as one can, all that is moving around and within oneself.”
It exists not to be “solved” but rather to expand the possibilities of understanding ourselves and others with better empathy.
Come to Poetry Oasis on Thursdays at noon (September to June) to see how this works! Offered free of charge; no registration required.
Kitty is the moderator of Poetry Oasis, the Central Library`s weekly poetry discussion group.