Summer Reading (and Writing)

Picking up on the summer motif of my previous post, I’d say that one of my favorite aspects of summer is the time I have to read more extensively. During the academic year, a majority of my reading time is dedicated to reading for my classes. While I manage to portion time for personal reading, I rarely attempt lengthier books because they can take me several weeks to finish, so as a result, I reserve the “bigger books” for the summer.

Among the six books I’m currently reading (all of which are in excess of 300 pages, with one close to 700, and another far lengthier) is the Norton Anthology of Contemporary Poetry. Since the beginning of May, I’ve read nearly 200 pages of this 1,200-page tome. in this second full month of spring, I’ve read such poets as Denise Levertov, Anthony Hecht, Donald Justice, James Merrill, Allen Ginsberg, Maxine Kumin, and Frank O’Hara, to name a few.

I’m aware that anthologies are “greatest hits” collections, but I enjoy anthologies for the primary purposes of appreciating more the writers whose work I do know and “discovering” writers whose work I do not know (or whose work I have avoided). Because of this reading, I’ll definitely be reading more full-length collections of some of the poets I’ve read.

Which brings me to one of the poets I’ve recently read (initially reluctantly): John Ashbery. First confession: when I was a younger poet (much younger), I bought a collection of his poetry and never read it. Ever. I don’t even own the book anymore. (I traded it off at an used-book store.) Second confession: I have avoided reading him. I’d heard that he was difficult. (I can imagine my writer friends groaning at my complaining. If I still had a personal Twitter account, I’m sure I would have lost several followers.) But I have been pleasantly surprised to find that I like his poetry!

In these few weeks, I have more fun reading poetry than in quite some time. I’ve sat on the floor of my home office, the book open on the floor, my body stretched out. I know that part of this enjoyment is because of summer’s comfortable pace, but I also attribute this delight to my main summer writing project: revising 5 poems a week from my in-progress manuscript, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life. (You can read the title poem here.) Absorbing the words, images, lines, and sounds of these great poets is providing me with additional momentum in my own writing, which in turn makes me want to read more poetry.

The reading-and-writing cycle is a beautiful thing to experience, and as I savor my journey through the rest of this anthology (finishing it by the time the fall term begins) and rework my own poems, I expect there will be dozens more poets I’ll be adding to my to-read list.

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