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My Ignorance Of Poetry (Featuring Eyewear And Caleb Klaces)

A photo of a stack of poetry books

Please note: This post is of my own invention. The photograph above was taken by Joanna Paterson.

It was somewhat ironic that just before the start of National Poetry Month I should receive the offer of a book of poetry. It was even more ironic considering that in the last few months poetry-loving bloggers (Alice being the major culprit here) should make deprived me start to rethink my opinions. It’s not that I hate poetry, indeed one of my beloved childhood books was an anthology, but as is often the case, school wiped out my interest and I’ve found it convenient to simply label myself an uninterested party. It saves money on books, you see.

But I’m feeling left out, and I realise that all this reviewing and looking for themes and contexts (previously reclaimed from school, too) can be applied to poetry as well.

Enter Maddy Pickard, whose email I almost deleted on sight because her company was called Eyewear and I’ve had one too many pitches about sunglasses. If you recognise her name you would be correct, she’s Maddy of Peirene Press. It was this recognition that stopped me hitting delete.

A new publisher of poetry, Eyewear seeks to increase our collectively lesser interest in the art, reintroducing us to forgotten poets, welcoming new ones, and providing a step-ladder for that unobtainable cookie jar. Maddy offered me a book and I accepted, choosing Caleb Klaces’ Bottled Air. The summaries of the books are descriptive enough that even a ‘born again’ can make an informed choice.

I must be honest and say that after reading the first few poems, I looked at my mother (who ‘does’ poetry) and said “I don’t get this”. It’s not that Klaces’ work is bad – I think Eyewear have struck gold here because his collection boasts tradition, dissent, and great subjects – my ignorance was battling hard against my determination to understand.

After this initial issue was overcome somewhat, Klaces’ collection proved a good starting point. My overall knowledge of poetry being limited to rhyming couplets and the classics my mother duly pulled off her shelf to read aloud, I’m glad for Maddy’s email. It’s pushed me to try again and I know I’ll be following Eyewear’s progress. I like what Klaces has created, the themes and the variety, that gripped me even if at first the poetry didn’t. There is something about it that just invites you in, makes the poetry accessible whether you’re from the ‘world’ or not. Even my recovering self recognises the beauty in it and I have to recommend it as a very good collection.

So I’ve some way to go (a topic for a later post perhaps) but to conclude it makes sense to give you an idea of what I was reading. Here is an extract from my favourite, Painting over Aya Sofia. I love the symbolism and thinking behind it, and how Klaces links one thought to another related one via the repetition of a word.

A lot of the painting here is painting over.
Can everyone at the back hear over everyone?
Everyone is a blast of light seeping across the film.
All day high toothy windows whiten in flashlight.

We are much like we were: five times a day.
Things don’t change that much in five centuries.
For ten centuries before it was faces.
Those were faces, yes. They were angels.


A woman kisses her cross and crosses herself.
Another is kissed by a pink polo shirt and camera.
A camera will not put the rest of Christ back in.
It will not take away the crowd around Christ’s toes.

Do you read poetry? Where would you suggest a new ‘student’ start? And, if another question is alright, what do you think of the extract above?

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Tanya Patrice

April 26, 2013, 2:20 am

I don’t read poetry at all – did in high school, but haven’t for years.


April 26, 2013, 6:44 am

I don’t read poetry because I’m a little scared of it: I always think I won’t understand it, which is true in most of the cases.

I like direct language, even in novels: when the author writes in a metaphorical way, I don’t like the book, and it also happens a lot in poetry.

For example, I don’t like the verse:
“Another is kissed by a pink polo shirt”
I feel like there are a lot of ways to say that, but not with the verb “to kiss” for a shirt and a camera.

So in the end, I don’t try poetry. I read everything too literally, and I don’t like at the end.

Laurie C

April 26, 2013, 11:26 am

I like to hear poetry read aloud, but I don’t like to read it much myself. A poet at the library conference I just attended said she thought readers should be able to understand the basic meaning of a poem after reading it, but that a lot of contemporary poetry seemed to be more like puzzles. I have her book of poetry to see if hers are clearer, but haven’t read it yet!

jenn aka the picky girl

April 26, 2013, 3:27 pm

This is exactly what my students struggle with, but the thing that I tell them, the thing that I’ll tell you – is that you don’t always have to “get it” – that part of the beauty of poetry is just responding to the words or the phrasing or the imagery.

Just as not every book is right for every person, every collection of poetry is not right for every person. Poetry is often the distillation of story. Sometimes it’s experimental. Sometimes it’s conversational.

Anyway, all that nonsense to say, don’t put so much pressure on yourself. You’re an insightful reader. And if you still don’t like poetry, eh, who really cares? You’re still a lovely reader.


April 26, 2013, 4:10 pm

I haven’t read a lot of poetry in the last 15 years, but there was a,time when I read it, wrote it, and loved it. I would love to try again after so long, and see how I do with it.

I liked this poem. It evokes some great images, and I think that this one would be a collection that I could really enjoy. I understand your inability to to really “get it” at first, because that’s always what happens to me as well, but I think that I would eventually do well with this book.

Great review on this one today!


April 26, 2013, 4:33 pm

I like how the line “can everyone at the back hear over everyone” gives us the feeling that we’re on a tour.

I love poetry, and I’m a very literal reader, so I’m not sure that Isi would find that a problem.

I don’t think that poems have to be “clear” to be enjoyable, though. Beginning readers of poetry might like the website Poetry 180, because those are supposed to be more accessible to beginners. What I like best about poetry, though, is that the complications of it are the only thing that can express some of the complicated feelings and situations in life.


April 26, 2013, 4:54 pm

I wish I could read and understand poetry. I took a Coursera course in modern poetry and it was over my head :(


April 26, 2013, 5:30 pm

I am similar to you Charlie. I loved poetry as a small child but the rigorous pulling apart of poems in high school really put me off. Last year I started reading poetry again it is a personal goal to make more time for it. Hope you manage to as well.

Rebecca @ Love at First Book

April 26, 2013, 9:23 pm

I need tips too. Poetry is not my thing. I think of Edgar Allen Poe when I think of poetry I’d like to read. Or Langston Hughes.


April 26, 2013, 10:29 pm

I do like poetry, but I don’t read much contemporary stuff. It is hard to know who to read as poets aren’t very popular – you really have to be interested to discover them. It sounds like Peirene Press is making an effort to market them better.

I am pretty boring in my tastes – I think Wordsworth is the cat’s pajamas.


April 27, 2013, 10:23 am

School is a prime poetry love killer if ever there was any.

Even on my weekly discovery, I still feel like I don’t always understand poetry. It says so much while saying so little.

I got a book of the nation’s favourite poems for christmas, and while I don’t think these are necessarily the best poems written, they were a good introduction to the art.


April 27, 2013, 12:25 pm

I pretty much NEVER get poems unless I had them taught to me in school! I appreciate them in theory, however; I don’t want to blame my lack of a facile mind for their appeal generally. Sometimes I just like the sounds of the words even though I have no idea what they mean. But generally, I go for the banal poems that rhyme and have perfectly clear meanings (“whose woods these are I think I know; his house is in the village though” etc! LOL)

Jenny @Jenny’s Books

April 27, 2013, 3:50 pm

I started loving (modern) poetry as soon as I stopped insisting on looking for the Meaning of it all. It’s like abstract art — it speaks to you if it speaks to you, and neither it nor you have failed if it doesn’t. You just move on to the next thing.

The way I started getting really interested in poetry was by clicking at random poems on the Poetry Foundation’s web site. It’s an easy way to get a wide variety of poems to look at, and you’re not stuck with any one author.

My two favorite poets are probably CP Cavafy and June Jordan, for what that’s worth.


April 28, 2013, 11:55 pm

Even though I would say that I really do love poetry, I don’t read it often at all, often because I find I have to really slow down and pay more careful attention to it than I do to other types of fiction – but am always so glad when I do! Exercises different muscles :D. So glad you found your way into some lovely poems!

Literary Feline

April 29, 2013, 5:59 pm

I am not a big poetry reader. I do try to set aside my desire to “get it”, but it is really really really hard!

I do have my favorite though–Emily Dickinson (cliche, I know). And I once read a modern novel in verse which I really liked.


May 24, 2013, 2:24 pm

Tanya: Difficult to get back into it or appreciate it again, isn’t it?

Isi: Yes! Poetry can be so daunting with all the meanings. Books can be difficult to, though a bit easier. I think (*think*) with that line, it’s just to describe the scene, the people there.

Laurie: Poetry read aloud is a completely different experience, isn’t it? I find I understand it better that way. There is such a lot of experimental poetry about, nowadays, it seems.

Jenn: Really? I have to say that tops all the advice I got at school, if you didn’t ‘get it’ you were lost. Thanks for that, Jenn!

True, there’s little point in forcing yourself if it doesn’t work for you.

Zibilee: If you used to write it you should definitely try again! Yes, it was a struggle, but I *think* I got the basic meanings. It’s quite different compared to older poetry (the only type I really know) but there is so much variety in it. Thanks!

Jeanne: Yes, it really brings the scene to you, that line. I think I missed the tour setting before, though, thinking it was an event of sorts (glad for your comment!)

I was thinking there must be more literal poetry, just as there are books that are all beauty and less plot. I suppose you just have to view poetry with a different mindset.

Thank you for the website info, I’ll look it up. That’s true, sometimes words themselves can’t express emotions but add the aspects of poetry to it and it can create the same feeling that playing music in different ways can.

Jennifer (Relentless Reader): Good on you for taking the course, I admire you that, it must have been daunting!

Jessica: If you’re actively making more time for it I’ll keep that in mind and try to do the same. It helps to know others have the same goal.

Rebecca: I’ve read a little of Poe, I seem to remember it being a bit easier so I can understand you liking it.

Anbolyn: Yes! Nowadays it can seem as though they’re almost underground, I suppose the world loves the classics so much and because poetry’s easy to return to constantly there isn’t that ‘need’ as such, for something new from everyone unlike novels.

Alice: That’s interesting to hear, I put you down as very knowledgeable. That said, you’re actively trying to promote it so that in itself is great. I don’t know if they update the collection you’ve got – I’ve got a copy too, so it may be the same. I never read it though, again, it was daunting.

Rhapsody: I like what you’ve said – appreciating them in theory, that’s me, too. And you know there’s more to them, it’s just that you yourself can’t understand them, but knowing there’s more helps in itself. I think rhyming really helps understanding, even if the words themselves are difficult.

Jenny: That’s an idea, I’ll have to try not worrying about meanings. I’ve not heard of the Foundation or your favourite authors, I’ll have a look for all three.

Jennifer (Books, Personally): It takes so much more than fiction, doesn’t it? Even heavy-going fiction is easier. There’s something great about understanding a poem, though, it makes it worth it.

Literary Feline: Yes, this, exactly. You can try to just read it but knowing there’s a meaning to be found or just a certain appreciation, it’s hard not to want to make that important to discover. I can’t imagine reading a novel in verse, my mum keeps saying I should read… I think Paradise Lost… and I just cringe! Despite my dislike of school poetry lessons, I do wish we’d been introduced to Dickenson, I feel at a loss there, even if I can catch up, so to speak.



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