Read It Again

Read and reread, that’s what I did in school when I studied.  My anatomy book was dog-eared by the end of the course. It felt like punishment, but rereading got me through all the sciences that I needed to learn as a nurse. Now I read mostly for pleasure, with a good dose of research mixed into my book buying and borrowing. And I reread for the joy of it. The discovery of something I missed in a previous meeting of the minds. For example, I’ve read The Magus by John Fowles at least eight times. It’s a pivotal book for me both as a reader and as a writer. I wrote a thesis based on it and his other mammoth novel, Daniel Martin. Every encounter shows me something I have not seen before. Of course, these are big books, so there’s plenty to see.

I often hear poets apologize at an open mic for having read a particular piece before. Well, shoot, we listen again and again to music that we love. Why would we not take the same delight in hearing again a good poem? It might be fallout from our commercial, consumerist lives where we want a new phone, new car, new spouse. Used is a pejorative that ought not apply in the arts. I’ve heard Orff’s Carmina Burana lots of times and just paid dearly for a ticket to hear it again. It’s in no way “used music.”

Then there’s the discovery I mentioned. I’ve probably read Theodore Roethke’s poem “My Papa’s Waltz” at least a dozen times and found fresh nuances that delight. First, I read it for its irony, a boy delighted to dance with his drunken father, and then for its structure, which is a tidy set of four quatrains, again noticing its unobtrusive rhyme scheme, its compression–a whole family dynamic in sixteen short lines. And finally like a little flame in my dark skull: Oh, it’s about a waltz and it’s in three-four time, three accented beats in each of four lines per stanza! Well, that was fun.

TS Eliot says at the end of “Little Gidding” that “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.” Exactly.

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