I like to play with my poems the way I play with my daughters.
We invent elaborate games with ever-shifting rules. We treat familiar objects as if they were not familiar. When we wrestle, it almost looks like we’re dancing.
The problem, though, is that other poems – poems I’ve never even read before – love to run over and join in on the fun, start trying to grab my thumb or pull the glasses off my face and before I know it I’m surrounded by a pack of little rough drafts all wanting to play slappy-slappy.
Not all poets appreciate it when you play with their poems in this way. They think poems should be seen and not heard and look at you disapprovingly when they notice their poems are suddenly barefoot and wild.
And not all poems like to engage with poets they don’t know either – ask them something as innocent as their title and they’ll shoot you the stink eye.
Better that though than the poem that’s licked all the frosting off its cupcake then can’t quite manage its sugar-high – equates being on the verge of a meltdown with breaking the seas frozen inside of our souls.
No, my favorite poems to play with are the ones that almost seem like they’d prefer to play by themselves. You have to earn their trust before they let you into their world. They would dance the whole night through if they weren’t so wary of drawing attention to themselves.
And ever since I became a poet, myself, and realized just how much work it is to take care of poems – how they keep you up late at night then wake you up early in the morning – I’ve come to truly appreciate what it means to play with other people’s poems.
How freeing it is to go over someone else’s house and rile their poems up then give them back at the end of the night without having to worry about how you’re going to settle them back down or wrangle them into their pajamas.
What a delight, too, to watch your poems play with other poets – to realize that you can never fully know a poem, to suddenly see them with fresh eyes.
And even though it’s always so much easier when your poems fall asleep on the car ride home so you can catch the second half of the game, you almost understand what Yeats meant – as you listen to your poems go on and on, now, about the glow of the moon – when he said that the world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.
Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, was recently selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Center for the Book. And his new book, Then Again, came out last November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters. www.ben-berman.comSee other articles by Ben Berman