Notes on approaches & questions for reading experimental poetry without reducing the poem or the poet

  • Context about the author is important, establish their context in relation to you. Very important in stopping the typical power dynamic between poet and reader
  • Every time you find yourself thinking about the author’s positionality, be mindful of when that comes into mind and in what context of the poem, remind yourself of your positionality!
  • Feel discomfort and explore why you might feel that way. Discomfort is one of the most exciting ways for engaging with a poem. Treat discomfort as a positive, art should challenge us to move outside of our comfort zone!
    • Where is discomfort coming from? Relate it back to your own subject positionality.
  • Try to find language that is positive, describe what it is, not what it is not. This will help us move out of binary-mode.
  • Collecting. Taking phrases and inserting your own definitions. Figurative points of engagement. What is the emotional content of the language?
    • Look at the way language works at multiple layers simultaneously.
  • Ask, “where is there love in this poem?” Is every poem an act of love and if so, how? Do I love this poem? Bernstein says we can quantitatively analyze an experiential thing. By allowing ourselves to ask, do I love this poem, we create a valuable experience of having a respectful relationship with the poem. Feelings are left out of Bernstein’s analysis, let’s fill that void!
    • Show up for the poem. Am I treating it with respect? Am I present and able to hear what the poem is asking of me?
  • Subjectivity both within the poem (what is the subjectivity of the voice in the poem? Shifting? Stationary? First person, second person, third person?)
    • To complicate that, how can we talk about how we might be excluded from that subjectivity?
  • Resist the impulse to put pieces of identity into a hierarchy. Be compassionate.
  • Open as a methodology. Space where the poet and the reader are in an “open” where words are not just between the reader and the writer. Thinking about how we can be open while we engage with the poem. Experimental poetry is poetry that is open to possibilities.
    • We’re witnessing a poem in a small span of time. Poems are nested in outer and inner layers. Where does the poem extend out and inwards from itself? What is outside and inside the poem?
  • Try not to pigeon-hole the poem. Go back and find new meanings after you have read it once. Read horizontally, vertically, more ways. Challenge the ways you read a poem first. Consider multiplicities of reading.
    • Materiality of the poem. How does it sound? How does it sound on the page? The shape? Performativity of it?
    • Can you access the poet performing a reading? Can you access someone else performing the poem? Differences are important.
  • Do not silence yourself. What you have to say is important! Practice self-validation.
  • Do not expect anything from the poem (in the context of a specific anthology, for example). Examining and acknowledging expectations of the poem, how do those expectations shift over time?
    • What does it mean to call something a poem? What are the expectations that go along with that?
  • Readerly authority, trying to unsteady that. But your reading is legitimate, you are the expert of your own experience. Value difference and try to imagine what other readings might be.
  • What does this poem look like through a microscope? Look at small grammatical choices and other bits of minutiae. But then, what does it look like through a telescope? Look at the poem at multiple scales and through different lenses (different levels of expansion, different reference points).
  • Literary context! Allusion and allusive reading. How do allusions function if the reader does not have the context? What if the writer did not intend them?
  • What does it mean to say a poem is easy or accessible? Take into account the types of literature you have already been exposed to and understand why your response to certain poetry is your response. What were your expectations? Do not assume that your response is authoritative. Ask questions of your own response impulses! What are your responses informed by?
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