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Getting It

One of the most moving experiences we can have as human beings is that of mystery.

We fall in love and suddenly our insides become outer space. We are in Portland and dreaming of Austin or we are in Virginia and dreaming of Tennessee. It’s the profound experience of the “other”. There’s a statement I have often overheard in galleries and museums that tie up this experience in a perfect colloquial bow: I don’t get it but I love it, or any hundreds of derivations: I don’t get it but it feels good, I don’t get it but…wow!

This reaction is a human reaction and often experienced, or vocalized, in our relationship with music, dance, film, and visual art. So it seems strange to me that we do not allow ourselves this same sort of ecstatic experience with the reading of poetry. With poetry the above declarations too often end with I don’t get it. There seems to be an expectation that poetry should be, if at first a kind of puzzle, something that is, in the end, figured out; an art form that is best experienced via autopsy. The body of the poem is placed in front of us and we are to cut it open and “figure” it out— when was it born? What was its meaning in life? How did it die?

I would like to argue for the embrace of a more mysterious, inexplicable, and unsolved experience of poetry. Let’s be in love!

Here then, a poet and book to help to you move beyond the cold serving dish many critics and misguided teachers of poetry would have you eat from- Anthony McCann’s incredible “I  Your Fate” (Wave Books, 2011).

“I  Your Fate” is a lyric book of poems that will make you feel like picking up a guitar, a paintbrush, dance your ass off alone in your room. That is to say, McCann will make you feel alive. And when, in the poem “Your Voice”, he writes:

But one day they changed the color of everything

It was kind of like tasting all the world’s locks

Or in his poem, “Mammal Island”:

Like a ghost

showing its




You might not “get” exactly what he is saying but you will feel what he is meaning. You will be moved by something pre-historic and radiant. Which is to say: you will be moved by this mysterious, lyric, ecstatic thing: poetry.

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Posted in Poetry

Comments: 12

(115) Comments

  1. Olga Dohrman says:

    An intriguing discussion is definitely worth comment. I think that you ought to publish more about this issue, it may not be a taboo subject but usually people don’t talk about such subjects. To the next! Cheers!!

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  4. Tashina Sojo says:

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It will always be exciting to read through content from other authors and use something from their web sites.

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  6. You have made some good points there. I checked on the internet to find out more about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this website.

  7. Maria says:

    I recently taught a class in which we convinced one student to abandon the word “puzzle” in her paper about a poem as a description for finding meaning. She then went for “labyrinth”, and then eventually, of course, two paths in a yellow wood. I wish she had taken that final leap into the dark. Maybe next semester.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Calculus is not mystery. Nor is code. Nor is metaphor. Let poetry confuse! We pray that one day we’ll understand. We pray for so much. I heart OUR fate. Thank you, Mr Dickman.

  9. Joyce Absund says:

    I want to show my tender ghosthood! Loved this post, despite all the calculus :)

  10. Confused says:

    These poems don’t speak to me emotionally or intellectually. They don’t communicate to my brain, heart or ear. I not only don’t “exactly get” them but I don’t feel them either. Is this some sort of trick? Did a randomizer write these lines?
    The word mystery has multiple denotations. One of which is, “profound, inexplicable, or secretive quality or character.” I think Mr. Dickman is referring to this meaning of mystery when he says, “.I would like to argue for the embrace of a more mysterious, inexplicable, and unsolved experience of poetry”.
    Mysterious, inexplicable and unsolved experiences are all part of our existence, but have those experiences be the outcome of poetry rather than a topic seems masochistic.
    I would like to argue for less mysterious, inexplicable and unsolved experience in poetry. If I want a mystery, I’ll read a P.D. James novel. If I wanted to be confused and disoriented, I’d try to do calculus. If I just want to play with words, I’ll do a crossword puzzle.
    I look to poetry to condense and describe our human experience using the full power of our language. These lines don’t do that. No profundity is evoked in reading them. They confuse.
    Thanks for warning me about this book.

  11. Rimas says:

    “But one day they changed the color of everything/
    It was kind of like tasting all the world’s locks”

    nice…I’ve noticed that when my mind gets rattled or unsettled by something it can’t explain, it tries to find equilibrium, I can almost physically feel something in their rattling around desperately for a sense of balance. And, reading you essay, I’m thinking poems play with this…”And that it fell on the windowsill/is only our experience, not its./For it, it is not different from falling on anything else/with no assurance that it has finished falling/or that it is falling still.” (Szymborska) Thanks for this, and well said…

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