A poet I interviewed recently told me that reading teaches you empathy for the other. Reading poetry supports empathy, supports compassion. The poet was Matthew Dickman, Tin House poetry editor and author of All-American Poem and most recently Mayakovsky’s Revolver. I interviewed him for an article about his new poetry project, Poetry in the Mail, that aims to put poetry into the hands of those who don’t usually read it. Following our interview, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’m one of those people who don’t usually read poetry. I admitted this embarrassment to him immediately in the interview (truth in journalism, blah blah). I guess I feel especially guilty of my crime of poetry ignorance since I’m an avid reader and writer of fiction, a student of English literature and creative writing, and have had plenty of exposure to poetry. One of my best friends, Will, is a poet. I turned to him recently to help me understand how to ease into poetry.
I still remember when Will and I took A.P. English together in high school. The class had to read an Emily Dickinson poem. I can’t remember the name of the poem, but I remember when the teacher asked us what it meant, what the metaphors stood for. Everyone in the class seemed to “get it,” to know that the poem was one big metaphor for pregnancy. My not getting it has stuck with me for years. For me, poetry has always seemed less accessible than fiction. I always feel like I’m missing something.