Thursday, June 24, 2010

Poetry as a reading aid - and just because

Olivia Tejada quoted me on her blog, talking about how poetry can be used to strengthen a writer's prose.

Doing so she reminded me where my own love of poetry comes from. My father.

When I was younger I had a bad habit (as I grew older I developed other bad habits, but that's another post for another day) of speed-reading. For no good reason I can think of. I read somewhere that John F. Kennedy used to speed-read, reading down the middle of a page. It was just enough to capture the sense of a book, a topic.

I have no idea if that is actually true. The world is full of apocryphal stories. What remains true is I was reading too rapidly to pick up the spelling of words. In truth, I may well have been reading too rapidly to pick up the meaning of the words.

My father's suggestion - poetry. He explained that I would have to slow down, because every word matters in poetry. The fact of it being there, the shape, the sound, the very word order, all matter. Not, in reality, a bad way to create prose either.

My father didn't mention anything about the beauty such care creates. I think he believed I was bright enough to discover that myself. How could I not? Poetry is not this pale, ethereal thing. Even at its most spare and delicate it is a muscular, passionately living force that can grab the reader and not let go. It did with me, and hasn't.

I don't expect it ever will.


  1. That is so true, although I never thought of poetry in that sense. I used to speed-read textbooks in school, where it is useful (or at least less painful).

    Now, reading for pleasure, I read slowly, savoring each word on the page.

    Your father was a gem to give you that gift.

  2. Thanks Laura. I've done the textbook thing, but I like to take my time with other books. I like to be drawn in and to be with the story, the characters.

    That said, I find there's a part of my brain watching the mechanics also. Hazzard of the profession, I suppose.

    Can't do that with poetry, though. There it's full immersion.

  3. Great post, Kevin, and a nice memory of the gift your father gave you.

    Growing up in a USA Today/MTV world, I often have to remind myself to slow down and read words in all their fullness, rather than just seeking out the sound bite. Your father sounds like he was an incredible man. As I read this, I was reminded of his story you shared with #FridayFlash. Thank you for sharing your memories of him. ~ Olivia

  4. Thanks Olivia. It is a nice memory, and a great gift. And I am so glad you enjoyed the fable of his.

  5. I always thought of my inability to speed read as a curse. Maybe it's actually a blessing.