The ever-insightful & always-frank Matthew Tiffany, of Condalmo, shares his insights about a poetry appreciation that starts off "vanilla", veers towards poetry for dummies, and ends up being just what he needs: something that resonates within him throughout the day. Isn't that what we all hope for with poetry?:
My relationship with poetry is pure vanilla - plain, unadorned, no surprises. I went to University of Maine at Farmington, a school with a good creative writing program, a good English major, good liberal arts in general (I think it's been rated top liberal arts college in the Northeast many years in a row now). Wes McNair teaches there, or did; same with other well known poets, the names of which escape me, because I never took any classes with them. My major was English, and I have no memory of any classes in poetry, which is sad.
My extracurricular poetics lead to some overheated stanzas here and there. I worshipped at the altar of Bukowski, like any good English major. (I was accused once of only liking Bukowski because of the U2 song about him, on their Zooropa album.) I liked his poems, bought a book of his letters, thought Post Office was dynamite. (Not poetry, I know.) Dead Poets Society - yep, loved it times ten, but was wise enough to know a bad idea when some guy tried to start a DPS at our school. Towanda, indeed. I joined the writers' guild; I liked e.e. cummings, or E.E. Cummings, depending on who you asked. Liked him enough to buy the $60 Complete Poems book, which I immediately filled with little scraps of paper, marking the ones I liked the best. Soon after buying it, I received a birthday present copy of it from an ex-girlfriend with a slightly randy inscription. My inability to tell her I already had it, and my unwillingness to move all those pint-sized paper scraps, lead to both volumes being shelved, and I've rarely opened them since.
In the past few years, I've come back to poetry for the briefest of periods - probably far less than anyone else that will contribute other, better posts to this subject. I very much like William Stafford's work, "An Introduction to Some Poems" in particular. I've printed poems here and there that I thought spoke well of the human condition, especially in our modern times, etc. blah blah. I posted them at workplaces; nobody cared. I retreated and bought Good Poems - both paper and on CD, read by Keillor and others - which I suspect puts me at the equivalent of reading John Grisham for Dummies on the train, but I don't care, because I like what I see in there. Something about those small poems, most a page, two at the most - I read them right before bed (though not for a long time now), just one a night, and it settles me. It does the job. Fiction - prose - I need to interact with it, immerse myself in it, feel it surround me, feel the weight of it in my head when I am working and can't get to the book. Poems are a break. The only poem with one of those little slips of paper is Marge Piercy's "To Be of Use", which I am glad to discover tonight, opening this book after a long time away from it, because it speaks well to my mindset these days.