I recently commented to someone (let’s say we were at Linda’s, because I believe poetry still happens in bars) how much I enjoyed D.A. Powell’s book Chronic, a collection of poems about love, illness, and tenacity, orbiting a central conceit of C-words that were divided into sections “initial c” and “terminal c,” with “chronic” at its hub. There’s sadness there, deep regret, but also a certain sense of mischief. I began following him on Twitter, and quickly learned he also likes puns, has a rapier wit, and readily mixes nostalgics and entendre like flour and water for the most warm and delicious biscuits, which helped inform my reading of his book.
At the mention of Powell this person wrinkled his nose and said, “I never liked his poems much. What constitutes a line…” and never finished the thought, leaving me to presume it was an improperly inflected question, but that there was something queer about Powell’s lines.
I went back and read again to discover Powell’s lines do push and pull in unexpected directions. His writing floods onto the page only to break, mid-thought, triple- and quadruple-space down the page before continuing. (I keep fighting the urge to end these sentences with “much the same way love and illness do,” but it’s no use.) What made it more plain was contrasting with another poet I’m reading, Susan Blackwell Ramsey.
Ramsey won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and her astounding collection, A Mind Like This, has just been released this month. As I read poems like “Ode to My Bladder” and “Knitting Lace,” I fell right into rhythm with her voice, her pacing, her delivery of each svelte line. At times, I laughed out loud. Enjoying her poetry didn’t necessarily require the work up front to appreciate her linebreaks or language, but soon I noticed something else going on. Threads and themes recurred in new places and patterns throughout the book, arranging into the kind of delicate rime on your windows that is strong enough to seal them shut.
Poetry isn’t always something I come by easily. It takes time and energy to absorb, digest, by the kind of osmosis that is less natural than it is exercised, steadily paced and self-determined. What helps is sharing and talking about the poems. Letting other people impress your poetic experience with their own. Even if their tastes clash with yours, testing why they clash might reveal more about what defines your own. Even if you find the genre slightly intimidating, or snooty, you may wind up pleasantly surprised.
“Sundays In” is a new bi-weekly column written as the experiences of one reader to another. While much of the week might be filled with work and errands, there might just be one afternoon to enjoy the pleasure of reading. For this bookseller, “Sunday” is Thursday.