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When students only have read a few poems, in exclusively academic contexts, they often approach poetry with what the li...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Listening

At the poetry reading the other night I began to compose my own poems in my head. One was going to be titled "The future is a foreign country." It was about how the future had a spurious clarity to it, and would send back simplistic messages to our shifting, shiftless present. How the main flaw of the future was its reverence for the crappy wisdom of a past more distant than our present, a past which, after all, in its own time had only been a shiftless present of its own. There is more to it than that, various twists on the relation between past, present, and future, that I could reconstruct if I wanted, though in a different configuration. I do remember the phrase "shifting, shiftless present," which I was quite proud of at the time. I liked how those two adjectives seemed to both negate and complement each other.

The second poem was about how I could weave fictions of my own while listening to a superb poet read her work, but that these fabrications would dissipate once the reading was over. I would never write these poems. The electrifying creativity I would experience was a form of resistant listening, that would never have been possible without that poet's voice. The third poem I have forgotten.

I thought afterwards that I should have turned off that counter-narrative, listening only to the voice of the poet I was there to hear, rather than weaving my own poems in and out of hers. It was a failure of reception. Or maybe not. Maybe mine was the proper response. Would I want my listeners to turn off their mental monologues and attend only to my insistent voice? I don't think so.

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