Back in 2011, I read an article by David Orr about a "special" poetry issue of Oprah Winfrey's O magazine. Orr documented the fashion, the superstars, the notable poets, and other topics presented in the magazine. Yet, he expressed his longing for something different. Beyond the various things included in the issue, Orr notes:
I wish, though, that they had found space for someone — not a critic, necessarily, just someone willing to be honest — to talk about the actual experience of reading a poem. Not why poems are good at rehabilitating people. Not where poems come from. Not what they can help us do, or forget, or remember. Not what the people who write them are wearing. Just what reading one of them is like to one person.Orr's comments have usefully haunted me for a few years now. We don't hear enough about the actual experience people have of reading a poem. What I've been working on is trying to chart what it means for groups of students to read a poem. I've been interested in trying to ask about and document some of what people experience and feel and think when they read poetry.
Continuing that -- asking and documenting what it's like for people to read a poem -- is a major objective moving forward.
Scholars are usually inclined to focus on the poets themselves. We read various volumes and reviews. We research and write articles. We trace biographies; we do interviews; we assign books to read. Yes. Good. Very necessary.
But what about the readers out there? What's it been like for just one person or a group of people to read a poem?
• Reflections for Poetry Project
• Reading The Big Smoke with Collegiate Black Men
• Toward a Sociology of African American Readers & Their Relationships to Poetry