Friday, October 28, 2011

I Teach Myself

Yesterday, on a whim, my sister and I ended up down Commercial Drive, walking towards a used bookstore we have passed before but have yet to enter. It was called "Canterbury Tales" though there was no name on the door or anywhere on the small building. (The receipt revealed it unto us.) Inside was a densely stacked shop, with sprawling shelves and inbuilt nooks and crannies, and books overflowing, like manna from the gods. There was no room to sit and contemplate a purchase, but we spent over an hour there, picking up cheap reference books as is our wont, and old favorites and new titles and poetry, poetry, poetry.

I got a book about the lives of poets, as if listing saints for a prayer book, full of old resounding names like Milton and Pope, as well as newer greats like Frost and Yeats, Sandburg and Auden and Aiken. Although I'm not the type to really enjoy classics, I felt I needed to know a thing or two about the poets who paved the way. A dearth of women in there of course. But it seemed a solid thing I could stand on, even as I look around for poets my age.

And then after careful deliberation, I picked out a paperback of contemporary American poetry arranged by geography, published in 1979, with names I knew and more I didn't. And I like that it's small enough to carry around, and I'm reading it one page at a time, which is rare for poetry books on my shelf, and it's old enough that I underline some verse I liked (in pencil) and maybe write a comment or two, and it feels like an easy conversation instead of an assignment.

And I still dream of writing down a curriculum to follow, but knowing my own flighty self, am resigned to keeping the books close, and the pen closer.

“If you’re afraid you can’t write, the answer is to write. Every sentence you construct adds weight to the balance pan. If you’re afraid of what other people will think of your efforts, don’t show them until you write your way beyond your fear. If writing a book is impossible, write a chapter. If writing a chapter is impossible, write a page. If writing a page is impossible, write a paragraph. If writing a paragraph is impossible, write a sentence. If writing even a sentence is impossible, write a word and teach yourself everything there is to know about that word and then write another, connected word and see where their connection leads.” -― Richard Rhodes

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