NaPoMo QOTD What? It's Still Classy If It Can Mean Two Things...

"Syntax, like sex, is intimate."
- A Calling by Maxine Kumin* (PoLau '81-'82)

Syntax is deeply personal. I take great care to say exactly what I mean, especially when I write. (Seriously, totally not kidding when they say that once it's there, it's on the internet forever. That's alot of pressure.) After suffering a serious concussion, it was very hard for me to land on the exact word I wanted to use. People drove me insane inserting their own suggestions like some hyper-relevant game of Mad Libs. They would usually get gist of what I was trying to say, but I wanted the word I was thinking of. Not just any old nuance and sound. It's the difference between hate and loath, or otolaryngologist and ear, nose, and throat doctor. I mean, can you imagine if the first line of Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" was "learning to misplace stuff is easy"? Only you can land on the perfect expression of what you mean, whether that's music, art, writing, dance. It's the unapologetic and courageous contact with that inherent intimacy that sets apart great art in any field.

Today is the anniversary of the opening of the first public library. For me, reading is an intensely personal experience. I make weird faces when I imagine characters' accents and I laugh and commentate what I'm reading. I love getting caught up in a wholly separate world that is different than how anyone else imagines it. Even though in some ways you're sharing the experience with everyone else who's read that book or poem, it is simultaneously a completely different and singular journey just for you.

So, there you have it. A definitive explanation of how reading poetry is kind of like watching a peep show. Intimate and communal, detached and visceral.

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright Maxine Kumin.


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