True Confessions about Poetry

I mentioned in a previous post that I once had a dim view of poetry — something about it all being pretentious hipster blather. I have modified my opinion, partially because James Sire and Eugene Peterson convinced me that Poetry was worth reading. I’m still not a big poetry reader, though I am learning to read it better. With that in mind I have acquired some books (big surprise) so I can have poetry to read.

I started trying to read more poetry because I realized that I couldn’t understand poems that I liked that my friends wrote. I got bits of the poem, but I’m sure I’m not plumbing its depths. I have smart, well-read, articulate friends who write interesting things, but if I can’t understand them, possibly I should become better read. Anyhow, there are still lots of poetry books on my to-be-read list. Here is a smattering of what I’ve not read.

1. John Donne – most of his oeuvre. I’ve read some of his Holy Sonnets, but not many. I’m still working on it. I’ve got a book of Donne’s poetry that I dip into now and again. One thing I’m learning is that poems cannot be read quickly, nor does it seem that books of poetry are necessarily meant to be read cover to cover.

2. Danté, The Divine Comedy. I realize this is rather a long work, in three parts, but I do intend to read it. All of it. I have Dorothy Sayers’s translation which I hunted down for years, and only found one volume at a time in used book shops scattered throughout Ontario. In this search I also found a copy of Sayers’s translation of The Song of Roland. That is also on my to-be-read list.

3. Milton, Paradise Lost. I do research on women who interpreted the Bible in the 18th and 19th centuries. They all read Milton. I figure I’d better get on that.

4. The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. I’ve got the collected poetry in the Penguin volume on my shelf. These poems have made the recently published list 25 Books Every Christian Should Read. This reinforces my inclusion of Hopkins on my list.

5. As mentioned above, I do research on 18th and 19th century women who interpret the Bible. These well-read women often read poetry. I’ve acquired 2 volumes of 18th Century Verse — one the New Oxford collection and the other a smaller collection by Penguin. I need to read those poems to understand the women I research.

I’ve got other books of poetry lurking on my shelves. I know I’ll read more. Soon.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “True Confessions about Poetry

  1. Shannon

    If you’re going to start reading poetry, I’d recommend beginning with something really accessible like Billy Collins or e.e. cummings. You’d probably also enjoy “Recovered Body” by good Mr. Cairns. Some of the older stuff can be a bit of a slog if you don’t know what you’re looking for. I personally don’t go after Milton without a helmet.

    • Thanks for the advice Shannon — the problem is that the newer poets turned me off poetry in High School. I’m a little afraid of a return. I’ll take your note about Milton and a helmet under advisement though. Protective gear may be necessary when attempting to read Milton.

  2. Alice

    Have you considered John Ciardi’s translation of the Divine Comedy?

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