I am sure that every field of study is as deep as poetry, but poetry is the one that I know. Or the one that I am learning more every day. I am reading Robert Hass’s A Little Book on Form. For a “little book,” it’s quite extensive, 430 pages, and so, I am reading it in sections, one piece each morning before I dive into my own writing. I’ve been using it to push me to write in form which is not my comfort-zone at all.
What I’m also learning is how much learning there is to do. Hass writes about a form, then goes forward to explore how that form works in writings both classic and contemporary, and so often he presents poems that I’ve read. Sometimes, they are poems that I’ve read deeply, written about, thought about. And yet, he almost always uncovers something new for me to consider, some new layer of meaning or allusion or craft at work that I missed or glossed over.
I am pretty sure that I am not a sloppy thinker and reader (I hope). It’s more that as I learn, I discover that there is so much more to learn. There is such comfort in that, several lifetimes of ideas and information to explore. We need not feel as if the world has boundaries within which we must travel and become bored with the same mile of path. In this case, I can read a poem that I studied in high school, college, and grad school, and suddenly tilt it in a new direction to see the light shine off facets that had rested in the shadows.
By the way, this is the same gift teaching offers. I read my students’ work and ponder what books to suggest that would clear the path a little further for them. My mind shuffles through hundreds of volumes searching for the one poem that could be used as a guide. My impetus in reading is now multiplied, not just for pleasure, not just for my own edification, but now for the possibility of being offered to my students.
I think of my own teachers, from classrooms, from libraries, from the world. I trace back my journey, following little lights: here is the fifth grade teacher who put my poem on the bulletin board; here is the counselor in eleventh grade that nominated me for a NCTE writing award; the used book store owner who offered me The Yellow House on the Corner, Rita Dove’s first book, and a mangled copy of Ariel while I was in high school; here’s James Welch patting a draft of my poem that is face-down on his desk; Diane Ackerman rushing breathlessly around the room to fill it with poetry; Walt Whitman as I tear into Song of Myself for the thirtieth? fiftieth? time; Bill Stafford writing from the dim living room sofa in the early morning; all of them, all those years.
I will never be a famous poet. Never post pictures on Facebook of myself reading at the Poetry Foundation. Never teach at Bread Loaf. But I will have this incredible road to walk for my entire life if I choose. Each morning before the sun comes up, or as it is sliding over the mountains of my home, I will have a book to delve into, a blank page to explore, a thread to follow. All those little lights to accompany me along my way.