How to Read Poetry – My Keyboard

Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world, a world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. And that led me wonder, If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe, it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown of communication… and there is the real illness.

Philip K. Dick
Poetry and performance probably developed together. Some people think poetics developed to help tellers remember the rhythm and structure of stories. Others speculate that poetry provided tellers with a sacred language for putting extraordinary words in the mouths of heroes. Both are probably correct.
When we read poetry, we mimic the tellers and perform; usually for an audience of one, ourselves, using our inner voice, but we do perform.
Or do we?
It is impossible to know what goes on in the mind of another person. Failure to remember this simple rule of fact lies at the bottom of most spats, arguments, civil laws and wars.
It is also impossible to put an elephant up your nose, but that is a color of a very different horse and, as far as I know, has not caused strife among individuals, communities or nations. And is completely off topic.
Do other people hear words spoken in their heads as they read and write or do they read by translating shapes (of words) from eye to language center by some other path? How could anyone know the answer to this question except for themselves? We can ask, but then must wonder if the words used to answer mean the same to us as to the speaker.
At this juncture, I feel I need to change into something more comfortable, namely, first person singular.
I perform poetry when I read. Not aloud for others but with well-developed inner voices for myself. I also hear business proposals as I read, but with a different, business specific voice. I see images, if an image is written, but I also hear it. As my reading developed, my voices developed in parallel. In college I identified seven voices who contributed to the poetry I wrote. At that time I had only one voice for reading, a nerdy voice who wrangled poetic writing until syntax stacked as nicely as cord wood. The same voice read non-fiction but found it boring. When the need for business reading grew and relegated literature to stolen moments, the poetry-writing voices and the nerdy poetry-reading voice retreated. A new voice, Business Voice arrived with luggage, moved in, and changed the locks. I used Business Voice to read everything, including literature: poetry, fiction, drama. Reading literature proved difficult for a long time and my poetry output dwindled to a dribble.
Business Voice liked predictable, simplistic syntax, more simple than the literary writers I enjoy; more simple than my writing. My reading and writing habits changed. Then, twenty years ago, I stood up and saw I’d become lost in the tall grass of corporate America. All my reading was non-fiction: business plans, technical manuals, marketing theory, programming manuals yadda yadda yadda; My reading list contained no literature. None. I missed the mental challenge and joy of good writing and decided to make a change. Though I looked for and found my college voices, they resisted returning; made it clear that Business Voice had to leave or they weren’t playing. Like every laborer, I need to earn a living so I reluctantly developed a new set of poetry reading voices; scabs to break the picket line of my college voices. I did not mimic the accidental, inherent voices I identified in college. Instead, I thought about what I wanted to hear and created new set of voices specifically designed to restart my poetry reading. Being more mature and more in control of my cognitive process, I also assigned the new voices to write poetry.
Replacing the college voices allowed me to see poetry in a new way. The new voices interpret poetry by others and let me interpret life in new writing.
The above should indicate that I am either crazy as a loon or convince you that I have invested in learning how I think; contemplated my voices and re-designed how I read; that I forced some subconscious process to surface and join my conscious thought where I can control it.
The new voices, developed to supplement the staid voice of business reading and writing, bring to reading poetry what a keyboard brings to music: a way to directly participate in the compositions of artists. I consciously use the voices to interpret poetry, not to form a critiques but to get the feel for what the poet did with language. For me, that feel and my response to that feel make poetry meaningful, which differs from finding the meaning of the poem.
For most of my life I thought everyone heard at least one voice when they read. I’m no longer sure this is the case. More on that to come.
© 2009 Chrome Poet

© 2008-2012 Chromia Poetics