Sreeraj never hesitates to talk about this book 52 Ways Of Looking At A Poem: or How Reading Modern Poetry Can Change Your Life. “In most book meets, you hear the complaint that modern poetry is not as good as the poetry that Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote but Ruth Padel can change this bias.” Ruth Padel, the great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, is well-versed in science, evolutionary theory, the environment and wildlife – a perfect mentor for those who want to understand contemporary poetry. Even though her book caters to the British audience, it’s a refreshing read.
“I attended a poetry session conducted by Ranjit Hoskote who also knows Ruth Padel. The topic of the session was the hierarchy of the senses and poetry. If you read poetry, what you see is primary, then comes hearing, then smell, etc. The senses follow each other in a specific order.”
To understand a poem, you must learn to see whether these five senses are present or described. Modern poetry has been described as cryptic but in reality that is not the case. Using 52 poems by writers like Dereck Walcott, Andrew Motion, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duff, Seamus Heaney and many others, she teaches the reader how to read a poem.
Take Dereck Walcott’s poem from Omeros, Chapter Two, section 2:
Seven Seas rose in the half-dark to make coffee.
Sunrise was heating the ring of the horizon
and clouds were rising like loaves. By the heat of the
glowing iron he slid the saucepan’s base on-
to the ring and anchored it there. The saucepan shook
from the weight of water in it, then it settled.
His kettle leaked. He groped for the tin chair and took
his place near the saucepan to hear when it bubbled.
It would boil but not scream like a bosun’s whistle
to let him know it was ready. He heard the dog’s
morning whine under the boards of the house, its tail
thudding to be let in, but he envied the pirogues
already miles out at sea. Then he heard the first breeze
washing the sea-almond’s wares; last night there had been
a full moon white as his plate. He saw with his ears.
“The poem is simple enough. It speaks about a man getting up in the morning, his dog getting into the door, the sea. When we read the poem again, picking out words or punctuation that strike us, we understand. The poem is a puzzle. We understand that the character hears the shaking saucepan, the leaking kettle, the dog’s whine,” Sreeraj said. “Then we understand that since the emphasis is on hearing, the author’s character is blind.”
A discussion ensued on science poetry, enjambment, synaesthesia, ghazals, nazms and bad translations. You can listen to Ruth Padel speak about poetry and her efforts to help conservation movements here.
More books discussed in Part 2.