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May 19, 2004


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Now and again I'll read everything a given writer wrote/press published. If I carry a book around for a week and don't get anywhere with it, it goes back on the shelf (or rather, the stack on the windowsill). Order's important, but I often have to start with the last poem and work my way backwards. Generally, I only write about books that I've re-read before deciding I wanted to write about them. I re-read either because I want to understand how a writer got whatever feeling it was across, or because I can't put my finger on what feeling is coming through.
Bob Grumman
When I first got into poetry, I did tend to read most of the poems I could find of a given poet--Keats, Cummings, Roethke. . . . No, I think what I did was read some major collection of a poet I liked pretty thoroughly. That worked with Keats because I had a book that had all his poems in it; and I had one with most of Cummings's poems. I had an excellent paperback of Roethke's poems, then Stevens's. I don't think I've read all the poems of anyone ever, nor have I devoured a large collection of any poet's work lately. I now tend to read, or otherwise experience, small sets of poems by people whose work I like. Part of the reason for that is that I'm in touch with many of the contemporary poets whose work I like best, and they send me poems a few at a time. Visual poets, most of them. I don't think much at all about what press a poem I read is in, but keep up with the output of presses run by friends, like Score Publications. Having my own press helps make me read full works of others, too. I mostly read a book of solitextual poems from shortest poems to largest, not bothering with the latter if the former don't impress me. Unless something in a larger one jumps out at me. A provocative title, perhaps, or some line. Collections of visual poetry I usually go straight through--after perhaps skimming a bit, just to get a rough idea of what the collection's like. When I read anything, I subvocalize--well, except for escape reading. Hey, Crag, why this emphasis on READING poetry? I look at poetry more than read it nowadays. I think I read poetry on the net about as I read it in a book. I miss the feel of a book, but if I enjoy the poem, I forget the medium involved. I rarely read all the poems in a book, but do go back to the books I like and reread poems, and skim for ones missed in earlier exposures. I don't know how often I go back to poetry books. I don't think I re-read any differently than I read, but I often find things I missed before. Mostly, I reread to experience the ah I always do when I hit favorite parts that have almost faded from memory. I don't know that I have a fifty-page rule. It's more like I have several rules. If I quickly recognize a collection of poetry as being in some standard vein, and don't find any fresh way with words or even general subject matter in the first few, or even first, poem, I tend to chuck the book. If I can't understand what the poet is doing, I'll hang on a while--unless simply nothing happens for me. Complicated subject that. Most visual poetry books I'll go all the way through because I'll usually enjoy them, but also because I'm a critic of the field so feel obligated to. I do not recommend poetry books to readers I don't know to be interested in poetry. Wouldn't know how to. I don't feel I've done justice to your questions, Crag, but here are my answers, anyway. --Bob Grumman
Nick Piombino
Though it appears I am in the minority about this, I prefer reading online to any other kind of reading. For one thing, you can link to it, which changes everything. As for poetry, like most other online writing, I also prefer when it contains links. Alli Warren does this nicely & more and more bloggers do this, Separating blogs from "poetry blogs" seems unncecessary to me; as does "poetry" from "prose", "poetry" from "commentary", from "theory." I also like to see, especially on blogs, some photos also. Reading books now feels "quaint" to me; mostly for the subway.
working at a used bookstore, my reading usually has more to do with what i come across that seems interesting, than any particular direction--though i'm pleased to find a new writer or book on a subject i already have looked into. i've read nearly everyone famous i might like (& way too much i don't). but it's great to discover a new writer who really knows what they're doing... a lot of the time i read back to front (just like i do magazines). for some reason this seems faster to my hands. i read old poems out loud (if there's no one around). new poems seldom require this. it's hard for me to read online for long. i often print something out just to read it. only if i have read several poems in a row that strike me as interesting do i finish the rest. then i go back through it & decide if i want to copy out any of them for my notebooks. i don't reread much--there's so many unread books on my shelves--although i always appreciate it when i do. a few of my favorite poets draw me back again & again; it's kind of like having pictures at the local museum* you don't leave without having visited. (*in this case, a period of X years.) i'm afraid i can tell by a few lines if a poet "has an ear" or not. though the kind that don't vastly outnumber, in our time, the kind that do, the fact remains that in any other age they wouldn't be allowed to call themselves poets at all. i don't know many readers with tastes at all like mine. at the store i occasionally suggest a book. but poetry tastes, more than most, are idiosyncratic.
Tim Peterson
Crag, I'm most interested in your question here about online reading vs. print reading. I have a strange difficultly feeling that I've actually "read" something when I read it online. I am a tactile and rather physical person who learns by the act of writing, so when I read a book I often need to hold it, to physically experience it, to underline it and write notes in the margins. With an electronic text I have trouble convincing myself that I've actually engaged with the text, minus the aforementioned extra-textual rituals of attention and contemplation. Add to this the strange feeling we often get that everything happening online is occuring in a "different dimension" and is not quite real, and I find that online reading really makes for a new kind of experience, especially the notion of linked texts and of searching/finding (instead of "consuming" a pre-set quantity of text). In this sense I really like Nick's recent reference to that link about the dog running across the field, and whatever he notices or runs into in the course of that path seems in retrospect inevitable. But I will still probably be reading most of my books in the physical realm, or printing them out from an online format (how ironic!).
Nick Piombino
Probably mostly what I read has to do with what I want to think about; or, if I am reading, of course it is what I am thinking about. Then these two combine; or they might subdivide; reading and thinking about what I am reading at the same time, or just reading, and just thinking after I am reading. I find out about a book and I want to blog about it, even before I read it. I look at the book on the shelf and improvise the text in my mind without looking at it; without meaning to do so, and then forget I did that. I wonder how many times this has happened. The more time goes by the more most of my thinking is about poetry; or is itself a kind of poetry. Sometimes actually reading poetry is one release from thinking about poetry; thinking itself somehow is released from "poetry" by reading the poetry. This is something I truly appreciate, though it is rare, or perhaps, mainly "virtual", meaning imgagined. The thinking itself might be reading without realizing it; or even a kind of thinking about writing, on the verge of writing, say. Just looking at \ it, thinking about it, not to be distinguished from "reading" it while still looking at it. Still other poems force the looking to not be thinking about it, but morphing the thinking into somehow releasing thinking. This is the reading I am most anxiout to repeat. Some books you think about long after you read them. Other books change the way I read or even think. These books might have to be unread, or de-read in order to recover an earlier way of reading.
Read poets as they appear, usually from a friend who is publishing or recommending them. Front to back. Sight read. Almost all in print. Online reading only to gain intrest in a new poet or 'check in' on one i already know. i like books. Read and reread and then again. i have some books I have been reading for 30 years. I usually read thru because i wouldnt have the book if i wasnt going to read it. i never recommend to other than friends in the biz, so to speak. why bother. Hey...great questions, Crag.
these are interesting questions. i've been thinking about the ordering of poems in manuscripts a lot lately, both my own and other people's. when a book of poems (or part of a book) forms a series, a natural narrative or thematic or chronological arc makes sense, and of course i read them in the intended order, at least the first time through. but for nonthemed collections, i skip around. very rarely reading from first to last poem. well, actually i just read aimee nezhukumatathil's miracle fruit straight through, but i started by flipping around, then went to the beginning and read through. i suspect i'm not the only person who reads poetry collections this way. even a book like noah eli gordon's the frequencies, which is a series, invites skipping around. to me anyway. i do recommend poetry to people who don't usually read poety. i've made a couple of converts! but these are people who i know well so recommending something they might like is fairly easy. i subvocalize everything. how does one sight read--does that mean you don't "hear" the words in your head? i'll also frequently read poems aloud--especially when editing, though anytime i'm not say, on the subway, i'm likely to want to hear them aloud. i read a lot of poetry online (on blogs and in journals) but still prefer the printed page for really getting to know a poet. as a compromise, i print things out and carry them around, or hang them above my desk at work or home. This response is probably way too long!
I don't buy very many poetry books as I have rarely found much in the style I like in bookform. I hope I can apply these questions to my reading habits overall. I almost always skim books or newspapers in a random way to trigger thought so these direct questions are difficult to answer. It's so easy to become text-overloaded so I've had to create different techniques to focus. The internet allows so many easy ways to randomize or alter text. When I read.. I read with the intent of learning something new about the language. Something that shows a secret passageway I wasn't aware of before. If I don't catch that feeling in a few pages I move on. 99% of the poetry I read is from online. It's difficult to recommend poetry and can easily turn someone off to poetry unless the person is very pinpointing in examples of tastes and interests. It ultimately seems we have to put in the motivating effort to search and search ourselves to find writing that resonates.

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