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When I first encountered contemporary poetry, I was pushed into a troubling space where trying to understand a central theme left me perplexed. Through academic conditioning, I was one of those poetry readers who could quickly identify the main idea and then gain praise for doing it, not realizing that somehow enjoyed. poetry had become secondary in the process. It was then that I discovered “Paradoxes And Oxymorons” by John Ashbery where he writes: “you have it but you don’t / you miss it, you miss / you miss yourself l ‘one another’. This poem changed my perception of poetry.
Poetry is meant to be a drifting experience that we won’t always know how to capture. This floating feeling, the dreamlike associative state we find ourselves in reading poetry, is something I tried hard to resist as years of academic training have taught me to be mechanical with my interpretations.
After having explored contemporary poetry, I finally learn to express my need to find a singular theme. I also learned to think, process, pay attention and half dream simultaneously instead of being too focused on picking up a central idea and being the first to raise my hand in English class.
In Why poetry, Matthew Zapruder writes: “Poetry is a conversation built on the border of dreams. It is a mechanism by which the essential state of reverie can be made available to our conscious mind. In academia, the importance of this reverie is often overlooked. This leaves readers with the feeling that the dreamlike state created by poetry is a flaw, rather than something to be cherished.
The urge to break things down into understandable chunks is fundamental to academia and often defeats the promise and purpose of poetry. This is where contemporary poetry wins. Through remarkable imagery and language that is both lyrical and sharp, Vietnamese-born American poet Ocean Vuong launches an exploration of his family history, complicated interpersonal relationships, and the aftermath of war and trauma.
Vuong shows that there is no withdrawal from reality or from the world we live in. He is not trying to escape or resist reality. What he does instead is re-imagine and recombine the real to create content for his poems, while maintaining the drifting experience that poetry is meant to offer, through its startling choice of words. He rediscovers the precious awareness that poetry is supposed to give birth to – the musings that exist beneath the surface of our daily existence: “I write because they told me never to start a sentence with because. But I wasn’t trying to make a sentence, I was trying to break free.
Through his poems, he rearranges the ordinary and the extraordinary in new forms while preserving the daydreaming state so that readers can better understand themselves and their life. He is not trying to escape his lived experiences, but rather to create a different engagement with them.
The same can be said of Richard Siken’s poetry. Her cinematic imagery, steadfast narrative voice, and rich take on the human spirit recreate a dreamlike quality that plunges readers into the confusion of love. For example:
“I reread your story. I think it’s about me in a way that maybe isn’t flattering, but that’s okay. We daydream and dream of being seen as we really are, then eventually someone looks at us and really sees us and we fail to measure ourselves. Anyway: history received, history included. “
Siken asks us to end the void of language, as we often see in poetic texts prescribed by academia. To talk about the human condition in all its depth.
Ada Limon’s Luminous dead things is another example where his fluid narrative style and silent revelations seem almost surreal and dreamlike. She not only recognizes the uncontrollable forces of nature, but also tries to harness them here. The shift from quiet observations to bold statements represents the timelessness of this collection.
The speaker navigates her beliefs, her past and the world she is a part of with an innocent but confident voice: “Here it is: the new way to live with the world within us so that we can’t lose it and we don’t. lost. You and me, it’s us and them, and him and the sky. I read this as Limón urging us to embrace a new way of life – that is, get out of academic snobbery and let poetry be ours in the truest sense.
She links her everyday moments to her deep anxieties which sometimes border on mental claustrophobia. This collection unfolds as human thoughts do in a semi-conscious state of mind. His poems weave an abstract language with solid images, which further reinforce its dreamlike aspect. Whether it was love or loss, she skillfully portrayed the unknown that lies both inside and outside the human mind.
The bottom line is that academia deprive poetry of its joy that contemporary poets strive to restore. Everything does not need to be broken down until the essence is lost. And all does not need to conform to a conventional set of inflexible rules. Most importantly, not everything needs to be packed.
If you want to delve deeper into the world of contemporary poetry, check out 8 poetry collections from 2021 to read right now.