Last year, I read Mary Ruefle’s book of collected lectures, Madness, Rack and Honey, and have thought often since about this passage on rereading:
‘And there was a curiosity too, the curiosity of revisiting and remeeting. Some gigantic memory might strike me as being rather small in the flesh, or the altogether unremembered might strike me dead at a glance. It is not like returning to places; we don’t find ourselves, in the fourth chapter of Madame Bovary, searching for the bakery that is no longer there. Our curiosity is always self-directed: Have I changed?’ (p. 185).
Even with my to-be-read pile growing every week, the already-read poetry collections on my bookshelf seemed to be calling out to me. I was curious too: what did these poems have to offer me now as a new lecturer and nearly-finished PhD student, as a different poet and person then when I bought or received them?
Marvin Bell also states in his craft lecture, ‘The ‘Technique’ of Rereading‘, that ‘a poem read once has not been fully read’. When I read poems I love, or ones I am intrigued by, I will read them over and over, sometimes out loud, sometimes at different times of the year. But, the other poems in a collection don’t always get this same attention. I am usually eager to read the next one and the next. So, this made me wonder: had I really read the poetry on my shelves at all? How many poems had I passed over?
With these questions whirling in my mind, I resolved to spend 2020 revisiting the poetry collections, magazines & anthologies currently on my shelves. So, in January, I revisited 31 poetry books and shared one poem from each on Twitter and Instagram using the #mypoetrybookshelf hashtag. The poems I chose were ones that struck me on the day of revisiting: sometimes they were ones I remembered instantly but, more often than not, they were poems I had flicked past too swiftly the first time around.
Many of these chosen poems spoke to me in a way they hadn’t before. Of course, the nature of poems is that they often resist knowing and this makes rereading both an act of discovery and rediscovery. I am already looking forward to seeing what ‘new’ poems I will discover next in these dog-eared collections.
If you’d like to read the poems I chose in January please head over to @writetoempower on Twitter or Instagram. You can follow the hashtag there (#mypoetrybookshelf) and even post any poems that you are currently rereading.
Each month I’ll also post a little round-up like this, celebrating the books I chose and highlighting any lessons learned from this rereading process. For now, please enjoy these photos of the books I revisited in January and stay tuned for more this month.