Thursday, April 13, 2017

A bridge to poetry #NPM17

A poet sits at a desk, stirring images in a pensieve, crafting a bridge of words. When the bridge appears, will it be made of wood, or stone? Arched or not? For the bridge to be a completed bridge, at least one traveler must cross it. Is the traveler's journey the same as the poet's? Will the next traveler, should there be one, follow the same path as the first, or the one made by the bridge-builder? Heraclitus tells us we cannot step into the same river twice. Is the same true of crossing a bridge over the river? Is it the same bridge twice?

how many bridges? what kinds of poetry are here?
how many bridges? what kinds of poetry are here?
Photo by J. Harrington

A poem written or spoken is often not the same as the poem read or heard. One way to explore these topics is to celebrate National Poetry Month by following suggestion 13, "Start a poetry reading group." Poems rarely, if ever, have only one correct reading or interpretation. If they did, they would be instructions to "Insert Tab A into Slot B." Far better to do "close reading" with a group. Done alone, it can, and does, leave you talking to yourself.

Sharing readings of and responses to a poem can be a wonderful way to gain more meaning from it if we approach those responses as additive, rather than offsetting. Think of the wonderful aromas and flavors in a pot of stew or chili. Perhaps more appropriately, picture how a mosaic is made. Poems also can satisfy a variety of tastes, or display the same light playing on different surfaces. You may have noticed that I've clumsily mixed cooking, eating, writing, reading, listening, bridge-building and other metaphors here. That splash you just heard was me, jumping off the bridge of poetry into the river of mixed metaphors. Don't worry, I can swim and I'll try not to jump into the same river twice.

The Floating Bridge



Beyond the floating bridge another world awaits. There the master
dances for the concubine. The fly watches the monk buzz around
the room. The emperor settles into the straw to sleep. I travel
there often. But I cannot honestly say I know the way. The bridge
appears at unlikely times . . . When I’m walking down the street.
When I’m eating breakfast with a child. Once in the middle of
a funeral I joined hands with the deceased and walked across.
Sometimes the bridge is small and inconspicuous. Like a poem.
Or the flight of a bird. Often I don’t realize I’m on it until I get
to the other side. Once I made the mistake of closing my eyes
halfway across and letting my lover spin me around. Now I’ve lost
track of which side I’m standing on.


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