BBAW: Profile of Poetry Blogger Read Handed

As a last profile in honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I sent over a few interview questions to Julie at Read Handed.  Her blog has a bit of everything, from poetry to nonfiction and literary fiction, and she’s a librarian who tells her readers that you’ll probably see books on her blog that aren’t what everyone else is talking about.

Please check out what she had to say about poetry and blogging.

As a reader of poetry, what is it that poetry can provide that you think other genres do not or what makes poetry unique? Why do you read it?

Poetry to me is largely about the words – their sounds, their forms, and (lesser so) their meanings. In poetry, every word is deliberate. In a novel, or even a short story, one word, or even an entire sentence, can be ineffective without lessening the overall work too much. Not so in poetry. That is why it fascinates me so much. Poets are masters of language, knowing when words can be cut to make the feeling more immediate, but also knowing which words are essential to the poem.

Thinking about new readers of poetry, what are some of the mistakes you think they make when approaching a poem? What are some tips that can improve their enjoyment of the genre?

The biggest mistake readers make when they approach poetry for the first time is assuming there is some secret code – some one singular meaning that must be derived. Then, if they don’t “get” that intended meaning, they feel like they failed at reading the poem. This is not true.

Yes, most poets have a “meaning” in mind when they craft a poem, but it is not our job as readers to figure out that meaning. And sometimes, poets leave the meaning intentionally ambiguous. Poetry is what you make of it. Whether it’s a phrase in the poem that just works and stays with you for the beauty of how it sounds, or an image that resonates with you, or a meaning you derived that speaks to you – these things all make for a successful poetry reading.

My main advice would be to stop trying to figure out what the “experts” think the poem means, or even what the poet intended the poem to mean. Instead, simply enjoy the poem. Read it aloud, roll the words on your tongue, and delight at how they fit together.

About how many books of poems do you review each year on average? Do you have an established goal of how many or is it a more organic process?

I review probably 2-3 books of poems a year. It’s really an organic process, though this year I did have a set goal of 2 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge. In general, I tend to not read books of poems cover to cover, though that is a great way to get to know a poet. Instead, I read poems randomly, pulling from several books at once. For me, reading poetry is more about the individual poems than the collections.

As a librarian, how often do you recommend books of poetry to patrons? Do you find yourself recommending poetry books to friends/family? If so, which ones do you recommend mostly?

Well, I work in an academic health sciences library, so poetry does not come up often (i.e. at all) with my patrons. But I do recommend poets to my friends and family. Again, I tend to concentrate more on the individual poem than the collection, and poets in general more than a specific volume. Some poets that I love recommending are Liz Robbins, Gerald Stern, Sara Teasdale, and Lisel Mueller.

What are you reading now? How do you view the world of poetry and its future?

Not reading too much poetry right now, unfortunately. I’m actually reading an information literacy instruction handbook for work. I have been meaning to read more in my Seamus Heaney collection, so maybe that will be next.

I think poetry will continue to be a sort of niche genre. The proliferation of the Internet has both helped and hurt poetry in that regard – it has exposed more people to poetry, but it has also let anyone “publish” their bad poetry. Either way, I don’t think poetry is going anywhere, but I also think that most poets will continue to have a hard time making a living on poetry alone.

Thanks, Julie, for answering these questions and participating.