Mistaken beliefs about myself: poetry edition

One of the questions that I find myself perennially engaging with is about whether we are the authorities on ourselves, and what epistemic status our knowledge about ourselves has vs. others’ knowledge of us.

I was reminded of this when I was out running this morning along the Alameda Ridge and went by one of the Poetry Posts. The owner had chosen e.e. cummings “in Just-“ to put in the post, and I stopped to read it, appreciating its timeliness and the lovely rhythm of the poem. I’ve heard it before, but not for years, and never in the outdoors in the moment of “Just- spring”.

After I stopped to read it I remembered that I’ve said to myself many times that I “don’t like poetry”, by which I mean if you’d asked me “What do you think of poetry as an art form?” I probably would say that I generally find it pretty hard to engage with. I don’t like to read poetry the way that I like to read novels or nonfiction prose. But actually, there are many individual poems, and many poets, whose work I enjoy — like e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Longfellow, Wordsworth (whose “Daffodils” was in yet another poetry post I saw on my run today; also timely and beautiful), Frost, and Keats.  My yoga teacher reads poetry to us sometimes, and I’ve enjoyed that (she likes Mary Oliver). I also write poetry myself, mostly haiku, because I like to capture beautiful moments that I can’t photograph. And I always stop to read the poetry posts when I see them!

In retrospect, seems strange to think that I would have said I “don’t like poetry” until I suddenly realized that it didn’t seem like an apt description of my experience! The idea of not liking poetry was, I guess, a story I came up with to explain why I often don’t enjoy reading poems (which is true). What I think I was missing is that for me, appreciating and enjoying poetry comes in the form of ‘liking’ poems because they resonate with me in the moment that I experience them, not in the form of enjoying reading them in sequence at arbitrary times. It’s an excellent example of a case where I didn’t have a very clear sense of what my experience really was, and was definitely not a clear-eyed authority on myself. But now I am. Right? :-)

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