Some years ago, I encountered the poet/author, Gerald Stern. In this video clip, Stern recites two poems. Each one evokes a very different feeling for me, the listener. The first poem relates an event in the poet’s life and his response to it. When briefly introducing his second poem, Stern states that it is “a more formal poem. It almost rhymes.”
In my first two listenings, I didn’t understand all of the nuances of the second poem although it gave me goosebumps. It touched something inside of me that does understand. Do you sometimes get the telltale goosebumps when reading certain poetry? That is your body’s involuntary response, a type of recognition.
No one can really tell you what you should get from a poem, painting or other work of art. When studying a painting in an art gallery, each viewer has his/her own “takeaway”. While there are ways to evaluate a work of art or a poem, it is not always necessary to deconstruct one. It feels right to me to sense my way into a painting or a poem…especially one that grabs me in an emotional or visceral way.
As a poet, there could be the tendency to want to analyze a poem you particularly like. However, that can come later, after you’ve had your initial response and savored the essence of the poem. Listening to Stern read his poetry at least four times, I was struck by the way that he “occupies his poem” when reading it.
What are your feelings after listening to each of the poems that Gerald Stern read? Quiet yourself and listen a second time, a third time or more. Did you find his poetry accessible or relatable to your life in some way? Listening to poetry is an art in and of itself. Giving poetry your full attention, receptivity, is a good practice. You don’t need to comment or have a rebuttal ready. If you are reading poetry in a circle, unless it is an agreed upon critiquing circle, your best response upon hearing a poem is to say “thank you.”