Saturday, December 8, 2012

The daily existence of narratives vs. special moments of poetry

For some reason or another, I'm frequently thinking about barriers that prevent people from engaging poetry. I was thus interested when I recently came across an interview with the novelist Ian McEwan, where he was asked whether he reads poetry. McEwan opened by responding that "We have many shelves of poetry at home, but still, it takes an effort to step out of the daily narrative of existence, draw that neglected cloak of stillness around you — and concentrate, if only for three or four minutes."

He then goes on to note that the "greatest reading pleasure" involves becoming "so engrossed that you barely know you exist." By way of illustration of his point, he describes an experience when he read Elizabeth Bishop's “Under the Window: Ouro Preto” and lost track of the time and people around him. Among other things, I was inclined to go read Bishop's poem.

For now though, I want to return to McEwan's opening point about the effort it takes to "step out of the daily narrative of existence." Those of us who wonder about the lack of interest in poetry might have been framing the problem wrong. Perhaps what's more notable than a lack of poetry is the pervasive power of narrative.

Stories, especially prose stories, perhaps appeal to people in ways that other forms of communication such as poems do not. Even poets recognize the value of storytelling, don't they? I mean, so often at poetry readings, poets tell a story about the poem or the circumstances of its creation before they read the piece. Even if the poems tells its own story, many poets are inclined to set the work up with a story.

In the plausible construction that McEwan offers, narratives are a daily or routine part of our existence. Poems, on the other hand, relate to special moments. Without a doubt, many of us encounter aspects of poems or more accurately verse almost everyday in songs on the radio, television ads, etc. Still, even those instances are viewed as special in comparison to the view of stories as part of the "daily narrative of existence."  Ok, much more to consider.

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