The survey I mentioned yesterday also had a question that asked “What is most likely to motivate you to READ a poem?” It gave the following list of possible reasons, from which you were allowed to choose up to three:
One thing I don’t like about that question is the use of the word ‘read’. I suspect the intention was to find out when people ‘encounter’ or ‘experience’ poetry and if we fail to include ‘listening’ to poetry, I think it will bias the results. After all, many people will hear – and potentially listen to – a poem if they attend a funeral, a wedding or other ceremony. Is that so very different from reading?
Or am I wrong? Does the question suggest that there are people – not simply angsty teenagers – who think they are in love and so reach for Shakespeare’s sonnets? Or whose relationship founders so they seek solace in the Golden Treasury?
I just can’t picture these people. Surely you read poetry or you don’t.
I think I plumped for the penultimate suggestion: “Many things, because reading poetry is a regular part of my life” although I felt guilty about the answer as I know I don’t read half as much poetry as I should.
Anyway, the answer feels inadequate and doesn’t do justice to my reality.
There’s nothing there about breaking off in the middle of a phone conversation to run and fetch a poetry book and read aloud to the other person just because it seemed tangentially relevant at the time. (And then letting them read something back, then taking your turn again.)
There’s nothing that covers situations like the time I stood at the top of a step ladder painting the ceiling while my mother sat at the bottom and read aloud from Palgrave and A. A. Milne (the first poetry books she found on her bedroom shelf). Or the times I’ve looked up a poem because of a quotation used in a crossword clue, or to settle an argument about the exact wording of a quote.
I’ll take a book to read on a journey, and a page – possibly even a single line – of poetry can give you enough to think about for a whole day, so a slim volume of poems makes far better sense than a modern novel that will barely last a return bus journey to town.
Nothing on the list seems to adequately cover the fact that I read poems that arrive in my inbox sent by friends who want feedback, or maybe I’ve read a review or heard a poet speak and bought their book, or I may be reading poems for research purposes, or for inspiration for my own writing, or a whole host of other reasons.
There’s probably only one adequate way to explain why I read poetry: because it is there.