Essays / Faculty

Required Reading by Teresa Carson

“We can learn a great deal about how to write poems from those who know how to read poems.”

I love Dawn Potter’s two books—The Poet’s Sourcebook and The Conversation—because both contain such honest, perceptive, and thoughtful observations from “good” readers. We can learn a great deal about how to write poems from those who know how to read poems.

I recently discovered a jewel:  First We Read, Then We Write by Robert D. Richardson. It’s a book of reading/writing “advice” culled from the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who I greatly admire.

I’ve been close reading Dickinson (particularly manuscript versions of her poems), Keats, and Shakespeare of late. The more times I return to their works, the longer it takes me to read even one poem/speech because I wander into new levels and layers on every reading of every word, every space, in them.

“I realized those glimpses of the infinite frighten me.”

But, right now, Moby-Dick, which I consider to be an epic poem, is the book most important to me as a writer.  In fact, I’ve been somewhat obsessively reading and re-reading it for the past year.  I’m in awe of the complex structure of metaphorical, philosophical and narrative layers in this book. Almost every word in it is loaded with multiple levels of meaning. While I’m now quite familiar with the text, I still have much to discover about/in those layers. For example, on my last reading I paid special attention to the “trapdoor” moments in the book, which open into the infinite, because I realized those glimpses of the infinite frighten me. How did Melville create those “trapdoors”? Why do those moments frighten me? What other writers create similar trapdoors in their works?

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