Reading Poems—The Art of Dabbling

by | Jun 19, 2014 | Reading


Sometimes—particularly when life feels a little too busy, or the days need a little more structure (like the summer!)—I find myself immersed in the art of what I’ve come to call “dabbling.” This might mean simply browsing around on Google, or the newest Best American Poetry, specifically looking at names I do not recognize in the literary magazines I’m subscribed to, or following VerseDaily and Poem-A-Day. . . But the whole point during one of these phases is to be exposed, at least minimally, to as many new poems AND poets (whether “new” or “new to me” is not the concern) as possible.

I have this somewhat-romantic expectation that the great poets, whether those who are widely-defined as “great,” or those I personally aspire to, perform this act of dabbling on a regular basis—digging through all the voices and names and topics for that new talent, that voice that is particularly fresh, that “move” in a poem that is especially invigorating. It’s an act that I truly aspire to transform into a habit, because these phases of dabbling feel like the moments when I am learning the most, when I am the most open to change and new attempts in my work and reading; and I imagine this sort of constant flux is what keeps some of the greats so many steps ahead of the rest. . .

Below, I have included four poems that I have found particularly interesting lately via Poem-A-Day, as well as a few closing thoughts of what these four have taught me lately.





Saturn seems habitual,
The way it rages in the sky
When we’re not looking.
On this note, the trees still sing
To me, and I long for this
Mottled world. Patterns
Of the lamplight on this leather,
The sun, listening.
My brother, my sister,
I was born to tell you certain
Things, even if no one
Really listens. Give it back
To me, as the bird takes up
The whole sky, ruined with
Nightfall. If I can remember
The words in the storm,
I will be well enough to sit
Here with you a little while.






I have faith in the single glossy capsule of a butterfly egg.
I have faith in the way a wasp nest is never quiet

and never wants to be. I have faith that the pile of forty
painted turtles balanced on top of each other will not fall

as the whole messy mass makes a scrabble-run
for the creek and away from a fox’s muddy paws.

I have been thinking of you on these moonless nights—
nights so full of blue fur and needle-whiskers, I don’t dare

linger outside for long. I wonder if scientists could classify
us a binary star—something like Albireo, four-hundred

light years away. I love that this star is actually two—
one blue, one gold, circling each other, never touching—

a single star soldered and edged in two colors if you spy it
on a clear night in July. And if this evening, wherever you are,

brings you face to face with a raccoon or possum—
be careful of the teeth and all that wet bite.

During the darkest part of the night, teeth grow longer
in their mouths. And if the oleander spins you still

another way—take a turn and follow it. It will help you avoid
the spun-light sky, what singularity we might’ve become.






All summer
it was on fire
I was as always
in California,
looking out my window,
discovering nothing,
then flying back
east far
above those forests
filled with black
smoke to feel
again that way
I will keep
failing to name.
O the same mistakes
O the mythical
different results.
It’s true one day
I walked a ridge
saw a hawk
read three letters
by Keats, bought
some postcards
I will never send,
and in a blue
scrawl made
a list then fell
asleep holding
volume twelve
of the old
some stranger
sent to fill
me with pictures
and information
about that land
where no president
has ever been born.
I woke wanting
so much to go
inside the mountain
they call
The Cabinet
to find
a few bats
and the daughter
of the chambers
drawing ibex
on the walls
so I can ask
her how soon
and in what manner
we will join them.






     Sunday mornings I would reach
high into his dark closet while standing
     on a chair and tiptoeing reach
higher, touching, sometimes fumbling
     the soft crowns and imagine
I was in a forest, wind hymning
     through pines, where the musky scent
of rain clinging to damp earth was
     his scent I loved, lingering on
bands, leather, and on the inner silk
     crowns where I would smell his
hair and almost think I was being
     held, or climbing a tree, touching
the yellow fruit, leaves whose scent
     was that of a clove in the godsome
air, as now, thinking of his fabulous
     sleep, I stand on this canyon floor
and watch light slowly close
     on water I’m not sure is there.



In this particular batch of poems, I have read each of the writers before, but what became so interesting to me was what each of these poems were able to teach me about these writers—the involvement with image, the influence of the familial (and certainly the philosophical—inviting the outside in), the sharpness of voice and persona, the complication of image against content, that juxtaposition.

They’re beautiful, these poems, and what they offer. Perhaps what is even more beautiful is the chance under which I read them: for the first time, in this particular order, back-to-back-to-back, allowing these voices and images to influence and transpose upon one another.

That is the sharpest beauty of dabbling: that chance.

The sort of poem that might arrive, after reading these in quick succession, could be beautiful. And better, it could be striking. At least that’s one of my greatest hopes.