Friday, January 08, 2010


I've been blessed recently with the experience of ideal readers. Noting and relishing...

(I notice, because poets don't get a lot of ideal readers. For instance, nowadays, when a poetry book is on some bestseller list, it’s often because its many readers were assigned that book. I have nothing against poets who benefit against having their books assigned for classes—I’ve been lucky to benefit from that practice, too. But readers forced to read a poetry book are just one source of audience. And, of late, it seems like my poet’s “ideal readers” are coming from somewhere else. A somewhere else where the reading is not labor or homework but a mutual gift-making.)

One ideal reader who made herself recently known to me is someone I don’t know, but who sent me some questions for an interview. I am finding it is requiring more time than I usually give to interviewers to answer this person’s questions—precisely because her questions relate to her read of specific poems (rather than abstractions re., say, poetics). This ex-stranger is now very precious to me: an ideal reader because her questions show how she deeply engaged with my poems.

Another ideal reader is someone I’ve met before but whose poetry pleasantly surprised me. Aileen Ibardaloza sent me a body of work as a manuscript entitled traje de boda. I read it, and immediately felt compelled to (offer to) publish it. And so her traje de boda will be forthcoming later this year from Meritage Press. But, right now, I am thinking of Aileen as an “ideal reader” because she took me up on an offer I made in my book I TAKE THEE, ENGLISH… In this Brick-of-A-Book, I had included footnote poems designed to appear on their pages as footnotes. This means the majority of space on the pages are blank, a design-decision for encouraging a reader to be the one to write a text which presumably would relate to (my) footnote on the bottom of the page.

While I heard many favorable comments about my footnote poems -- my favorite being how the late Rochelle Rattner had used the section for a workshop at a senior citizens' home -- I've not actually seen many examples of people responding to my footnote poems. Well, here is one example--here's an excerpt from Aileen’s poem “Taffetta”; the footnote below was one I wrote and from which she wrote:
The Book of Vows4

Delicate and familiar is
the secret language

of hands. There is, for
instance, the piña, (un)spoken

by the weavers of
Aklan. Nu shu,

by the wives of ancient
China. Chope,

by the grandmothers
of Punjab. Nakis,

by the women of Anatolia.
Soft, wispy, red and endless,

is the sum of their symbols.
The quivered touch, stitch

by stitch, meant, simply,
this: I live, unimagined.

4. In exchange for electricity, they accepted a colonizer’s alphabet.

There’s a lot of blather out there regarding poetry—I contribute to said blather because I know Poetry can survive our numerous inanities. But it bears repeating sometimes: none matters without the poem. If the poem is written; if the poem is read. What is written. What is read.

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