I was just writing up a list of books I want to read in the next year, ranging from Muriel Rukeyser to Alice Fulton to Yusef Komunyakaa, and it got me thinking about my response to poetry that doesn't engage me.
For example, when I was required to read Elizabeth Biship's Collected Poems from cover to cover for my program, my eyes spent most of the book glazed over with boredom. Her cold, detached mode of writing doesn't connect with me. I'm not judging the quality of her work, mind you, just the fact that I don't relate to it or find it to be a valuable resource for me per se.
But, I moved my glazed eyes over every page in the book. I thought, maybe, if I stick with it, something will catch. I'll pull something away from this, understand something better.
My question is, though—with so many other books I want to read and that will possibly resonate with me, should I bother reading books that don't engage me?
I can't say that my experience with Bishops has done much for me since then (it was a year or so ago), other than to help me better understand the poets who revere her. I was recently directed by a close friend to read Laura Jensen's work, but again, I felt disconnected and read only about 20 pages before I stopped. I haven't gone back. Should I?
On the one hand, I recognize the importance of being a trooper and "eating my lima beans," but what if these books that seeminly don't help me are actually keeping me from finding the work that energizes me, invigorates me, makes me want to write through the night? The D. A. Powells, the Frank O'Haras, Tony Hoaglands, Lynn Emanuels, David Trinidads, David St. Johns, James Wrights, Chase Twichells...
Does a poet need to read the work that tastes bad just to grow up big and strong?