Making the Poems You Read Your Own
My good friend Dan Pohl teaches English at Hutchinson Community College and writes delightful poetry. He also knows how to truly own a book of someone else’s poems. I first got to know how Dan approaches a new book of poetry when he showed me his heavily annotated copy of my first book, Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Press, 2014). Dan reads with a pen and notebook, usually in a deck chair or comfortable easy chair, tea or coffee at hand. And he really digs into each poem, Thinks about it, underlines words and phrases that catch his attention, adds little notes and side comments and does research on unfamiliar names or places. He finds things in poems that have meaning to him and jots them down, there on the page.
I always like to see what he writes about my poems, as I find it fascinating what other people take from my poems. Some of it I knew was there, other things I might never have seen or suspected. So I gain insight into my writing that I can’t get any other way. As a result of seeing how Dan approaches reading, I have been trying to up my game and get much more involved when I approach others’ poetry. I have a long way to go before I get as good at this as Dan; he has had a lot of history and experience at this. I can’t yet formulate how to do this: it involves a bit of critique, a bit of free association, a bit of self-psychoanalysis, I suppose, and definitely a deep background of reading widely and voraciously.
Rather than try to explain the process, I prefer to illustrate it with a few examples of how my poems look on the page after Dan has read them. These examples are from my latest book of poetry, Amanuensis Angel (Spartan Press, 2018), which contains ekphrastic poems inspired by abstract and other artists’ depictions of angels.
This is the first poem in the book, “Angel of Chaos.” It was inspired by a Salvador Dali painting.
This poem, “Jacob and the Angel,” was inspired by Sir Jacob Epstein’s sculpture depicting a scene from Genesis, Jacob wrestling with an Angel. Epstein’s figures were massive, and reminded me of sumo wrestlers, so I keyed off them.
Look these over, and note how Dan goes off at times to wherever the words or images lead him. To Japanese characters, sketches. He notes questions that arise when he reads, makes his own interpretations. I hope these few examples will inspire you to grab a pen or pencil from your desk and a poetry book from your shelf and own someone’s poems using Dan Pohl’s marvelous annotation techniques.
Good Luck and Good Reading!
~ Roy Beckemeyer, May 28, 2018
[My book, Amanuensis Angel, and other of my books are available on my Author’s Page. Dan Pohl’s Anarchy and Pancakes (illustrated by his daughter Jessie Pohl and published by Spartan Press, 2018) is available on Amazon.]