On Not Meeting Frivolous Goals

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was going to try to read a book of poetry every week this year.  It is now week twenty-four, and I’ve read twenty-one books.  I should have realized that this goal was unrealistic—especially when I signed up to teach four classes this summer—but I always have unrealistic goal towards the number of books that I’m going to read.

When going on a weeklong trip, it is rare for me to carry less than four books. Keep in mind these are not sit at the shore of a lake and read type trips, but the meet of up with friends and see all the sights type trips.  The reality is I probably wouldn’t get through one book much less four.

I suspect that this, in part, is a habit that I picked up from my dad—who always carried a book with him in case he ever got stuck waiting.  A habit I carry to the extreme.  One of my criteria for a purse is that I can fit a good-sized paperback into it (along with my wallet, journal, day planner, and pens).  When packing for a trip I tend to worry that I may finish one book and not have anything else to read, that when I start a new book it will prove a bore, that one book may be intense and I will need light-hearted breaks.  In the end, I usually pack four books.

The books on my nightstand, or what I knock over when my alarm clock goes off.

I read more than one book at the time.  Usually I’m reading—at the very least—a novel, a book of nonfiction, a book of poetry, something that I’ve been intimidated by, and an issue of a literary magazine.  As you can see by the photo of the books currently on my nightstand I often exceed that list.  And not only am I reading that pile, I’ve also been carrying around The Uses of Enchantment and the most recent issue of the Indiana Review, in case I get a spare moment at work, and sitting next to my desk is Thomas Hardy The Complete Poems, which I pick up from time to time (though it may take me years to get through).

This book is huge! It could be classified as a blunt instrument even though it’s a paperback.

When considering my reading habits, I may read a lot of books, but I don’t really get through them all that quickly.  It was never realistic that I was going to read a book of poetry a week, though I may still be able to read fifty-two books of poetry this year.

In fact The Complete Poems of Cavafy had been sitting on my shelf for quite sometime, but I’ve been putting off reading it to focus on books I knew I could get through in a week.  Finally I gave in—I could no longer stand waiting even though I knew it would mess up my goal.  I was doing this for fun anyways.

Of course the danger of having fun goals is that they can turn into work. After all I’m not reading these books for a class or a job, I’m reading them for myself.  And sometimes, especially with poetry, it’s all right to take your time.

Below is the books of poetry that I’ve finished so far:

Week 1: The Best American Poetry of 2011

Week 2: Radial Symmetry By Katherine Larson

Week 3: Sin by Ai

Week 4: Waxworks by Frieda Hughes

Week 5: Mommy Must be a Fountain of Feather by Kym Hyesoon

Week 6: Bestiary or The Parade of Orpheus by Guillaume Apollinaire

Week 7: Kaddish by Allen Ginsberg

Week 8: The Other Side/ El Otro Lado by Julia Alvarez

Week 9: Remainland by Aase Berg

Week 10: It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Poetry of Breakup ed. by Jerry William

Week 11: Red as a Lotus: Letters to a Dead Trapist by Lisa Gill

Week 12: Diving into The Wreck by Adrienne Rich

Week 13: Breathing Between the Lines by Demetria Martinez

Week 14: Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson

Week 15: Petals of Zero by Andrew Zawacki

Week 16: Words for Empty and Words for Full by Bob Hicok

Week 17: Head Off & Split by Nikkey Finney

Week 18: Flying at Night by Ted Kooser

Week 19: Practical Gods by Carl Dennis

Week 20: Wait by C.K. Williams

Week 21: Arrival of the Future by B.H. Fairchild.

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4 thoughts on “On Not Meeting Frivolous Goals

  1. You’re ahead of me in book reading. In my defense, poetry books are often shorter than prose books. In your defense, poetry takes more time and intense focus than prose does.

    What did you think of Petals of Zero? I’ve read Zawacki’s Anabranch and By Reason of Breakings, and–consider the timing–just yesterday noted that a third book was available. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    • Admittedly, I did not spend enough time with this book.

      For the most part it did not keep my interest. The first two long poems of the book were interesting experiments in language, and had a few moment of lyrical beauty. But, they struck me as rather empty otherwise.

      I enjoyed the third and last poem in the book “Storm, lustral: unevensong.” The rhythm and the images were beautiful. And while I did not “understand” it, I felt that if I returned to it and spent more time I may be rewarded.

      Ultimately when I finished the book, I was just confused. It is a book that I’m not willing to write off. But for the amount of work that it requires of me, I’m not getting enough of reward to enjoy it.

      What did you think of his two other books?

      • Thanks for your thoughts. I spent more time with Anabranch because I was interviewing him soon after its publication. It’s dense, and like you with Petals of Zero, I felt I didn’t understand it, although I don’t always think that intellectual comprehension is important when experiencing a poem. Its opener, “Credo,” and the opener in By Reason of Breakings, “Vespers,” are two of my favorite poems of all time, although perhaps his more accessible. All in all, his work is thick with nonporous language and image, and the feelings it leaves me with–perplexity, complexity, wonder–are, to me, incentive enough to return.

      • Those are good reason to return, and they’re why I’m hesitant to give a negative review of the book. I agree that it is not necessary to understand a poem to enjoy it. What I want from a poem is for it to take off top of my head to badly paraphrase Dickinson. (Was she describing a literature orgasm? Oh dear.) What works for readers varies widely. For me a poem needs to cause an emotional response or have beautiful musicality regardless of whether I understand it. I think Zawacki’s work sometimes have those qualities. I think I definitely will keep an eye on his work.

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