Reaction to Poetry

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

Grade: none

I added Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith to my list of books read in 2019, but it felt almost dishonest to do so. Yes, I did read the entire collection. I even reread most of the poems and gave them some additional thought. But I couldn’t make very many of them speak to me. This felt like a failure on my part. How could I not enjoy a Pulitzer-winning collection of poetry by the Poet Laureate? How could I fail to understand some of the poems? Did I not read them properly? Am I lacking what it takes to appreciate poetry?

This reaction doesn’t surprise me. I’ve had similar reactions to poetry in the past. These feelings of failure are what have always pushed me away from poetry.

But it’s a reaction that doesn’t make sense. I haven’t immediately liked or immediately understood every prose work that I ever encountered either. I never took that as a sign that prose “just wasn’t my thing” or that I lacked the ability to understand it.

So I’m going to continue my efforts to read and enjoy poetry. I’m not going to give up just because I don’t like a poem, or a collection of poems, or any one poet’s particular style. I’m going to continue reading at least a poem a day and see where that takes me.

And, for the time being, I’m not going to give grades to collections of poetry. A grading system only works if you know what you do and do not like and have seen enough of both to know where the extremes lie. So Life on Mars does not get a grade, at least for now. Maybe I’ll revisit it someday, after I’ve experienced more of poetry’s extremes, and see how it suits me then.

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