Third Thursday at Forza Coffee Company was great fun this month. We had an all open-mic night, with fourteen poets reading. The reading went so smoothly that we heard all fourteen before the break and several again after the break. The theme was the dog days of summer (see last post) so we heard lots of dog poems and swimming poems, etc. And a few that defied categorizing. Part of the conversation at the break centered on describing a good poem, an issue for us since, what, Aristotle? We certainly did not settle the issue or come close, but it was good to think about that pesky old definition/description.
Noodling in my journal this morning, I thought about how we get to write even marginally good poems. We read good poems and bad; we listen to other poets at readings; we practice and throw out a large percentage of what we try. Pride and ego get in on the act: we want to be respected by readers, listeners, and especially other poets, so we try hard to write fresh, insightful, musical pieces. But when that idea of reading widely came up in the discussion, an impish face next to me questioned that idea. Why do novice poets not read everything they can? Years ago critic Harold Bloom described the anxiety of influence, which I hear from poets now and again. I offer up my pleasure in reading lots of poetry, the education that I get when I'm enthralled or offended and consider why I reacted strongly. And I think of other poems as recipes. We learn to cook from cookbooks or from those we know who provide us with delicious meals. Why then should we fear to learn how to make a poem from the examples of others?