100 Book Challenge, poetry

Book #67: Life on Mars

The poet W. H. Auden said,

“As readers, we remain in the nursery stage so long as we cannot distinguish between taste and judgment, so long, that is, as the only possible verdicts we can pass on a book are two: this I like; this I don’t like.

“For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don’t like it; I can see this is good and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe that with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don’t like it.”

I was introduced to this quote by Alan Jacobs in his book The Pleasures of Reading in the Age of Distraction and it reminds me of the 5 levels of engagement, as introduced to me by Oliver DeMille:

  1. Is the work “good” or “bad”?
  2. What are the positive lessons I can take away from the good in this work?
    (make a list of things you agree with/disagree with)
  3. What are the lessons I can take away from the “bad” in the work, or the things
    I disagree with?
  4. What great messages does this great classic have specifically for me, my
    needs, and my effectiveness in my roles and purpose?
  5. What, for me, is the “Big Idea” — the overarching, transformational theme of
    this work?

I think between the two of these concepts, I get a much better rating system than my one-to-five star ratings.

My friend who was hosting the December book club chose for everyone to read either some flash fiction or poetry and to plan to share.  I couldn’t make it for the event, but I decided to read some award-winning poetry.  I mean, I’d rather read good poetry than stinky stuff.  Tracy K. Smith is the current Poet Laureate for the United States, so that’s a good sign her poetry will be worth reading.  I picked up a copy of Life on Mars from the library and took it for a spin.

Here’s the thing, though.  I don’t super love poetry.  I have to feel a connection pretty quickly to persevere.  I just don’t always get it.  Smith’s poems weren’t hard, but I just didn’t feel drawn in or connected to them.  Comparing it to poems I have enjoyed, like Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins, it just didn’t resonate with me.  But the poems weren’t terrible.  Even I, an ignoramus when it comes to modern poetry, can tell that she uses language beautifully.  But I just didn’t care for it.  If I take Auden’s advice to be an adult reader, then this would fall solidly in the “I can see this is good and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe that with perseverance I shall come to like it” camp.

I’ll admit that I read the whole book in one sitting and probably would have gotten more out of it had I read it aloud, or at least slowed down.  That’s the “perseverance” Auden talked about, I think.  And perhaps I’ll persevere another day.  For now, I was just happy for an easy win in this challenge (I’m guess I’m not rehabilitated yet) and always game to try something new.

Goodreads rating: 3 stars


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