To be a good poet–that is, to take a lifetime to achieve the grace to focus on the composition, to work toward the cultivation of expression without thinking about gains or losses, successes or failure, to return again and again to the page or screen and attempt, full knowing that mastery is not only illusory but fatal— is a difficult thing.
Equally difficult is being a good reader. It requires reception, a willingness to approach work, even if it has been read before, with fresh eyes. It requires time: spending the first three or four reads going through the work, casting off all biases for or against the poem, poet, reading again for content, another read for format and yet another reintroducing & exploring the biases.
Poets are autocrats. Sometimes they team up with other autocrats and form juntas, schools of poetry that work against the very nature of the poet-reader relationship. Readers are autocrats as well. Sometimes they team up at universities and form theories. Both are indulgent, and push the reader and poet further away from one another, until, like rival gangs, they eye one another across the dance floor at the local high school, vying for supremacy over the best seating in the cafeteria. This is unfortunate but happens. Writing is lonely work, the fullest expression of the Enlightenment’s embrace of the individual, which goes against every impulse that we have to join, to suborn and suppress ourselves into groups. Readers do this as well, uniting, looking to be directed, being told how to understand: comprehension melts into a single group-think message, a single interpretation.
And the obvious truth that poetry simply doesn’t have the readership that it used to, back when they were the only voice in town, the shaman on the stone, the pamphleteer, the pundit. Oftentimes, poets become the readers, racing across the dance floor, hurtling insults toward perceived enemies, or over-praising friends. Being a good poet doesn’t automatically make one a good reader, and it’s a skill that, if poetry is to flourish and grow, even if only through the pavement cracks, is desperately needed. For those that are poets, reading this issue of Triggerfish, I ask that you sit back and read as you did when you first discovered your joy in poetry, the pleasure of prosody, the joy in language and expression. Be a good reader.