Although I own several books by poets, I tend to settle for their prose writing rather than their poetry. For example, although I find the deceptively smooth poetry of Hugo Williams seductive ("If it doesn't look easy you're not trying hard enough"), I far prefer his similarly suave column in the TLS and bought a collection of that prose writing a few years ago. I have also devoured and regularly reread Kenneth White's travel writing, but his poetry books, some of which I do have, just don't exert the same attraction. I have some incredibly poetic books by Kathleen Jamie and Alistair Reid too, but none of their poetry. The Collected Letters of Larkin sit on my bookshelf and have been read in their (occasionally tedious) entirety, but I don't have any of his poems.
I used to think that poetry held so little attraction for me because of my lack of musicality. Or perhaps I just didn't have enough soul. But, a passage from Ian McEwan's most recent novel, Saturday, suggests a better explanation. The protagonist finds that "even a first line can produce a tightness behind his eyes:
"Novels and movies, being restlessly modern, propel you forwards or backwards through time, through days, years or even generations. But to do its noticing and judging, poetry balances itself on the pinprick of the moment. Slowing down, stopping yourself completely , to read and understand a poem is like trying to acquire an old-fashioned skill like dry stone walling or trout tickling."The truth is, then, that reading poetry is a skill that simply takes more time and effort than reading most prose. It's not something you can do properly lying in bed, and subscribing to a poetry blog is no magic bullet either, since the very nature of blog-reading means that one scans them quickly for instant reading gratification. Perhaps poetry podcasts are the answer — there is something very attractive in the idea of effortlessly assimilating the words of a poem whispered directly into my ear from my pink i-Pod as the tram whisks me into work. If it's not in bed and it's not in the tram, the alternative for me is reading poetry in the living-room with the repetitive cadences of Dora in the background: Chipeur arrête de chiper, Chipeur arrête de chiper, Chipeur arrête de chiper..