This marks another year’s end for a psychoanalytic poetry reading group to which I belong. We began as a clinical case group some years ago, but began reading poetry together while discussing the dynamics of mourning (we’d read Catherine Barnett’s Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes are Pierced and Elizabeth Bishop’s Geography III which includes that wonderful poem, “One Art”—I’m reminded, incidentally, that two of the most interesting books of poems I’ve read this year are Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy and Kristen Prevallet’s I, Afterlife.) Our focus this year was on Yusef Komunyakaa’s Dien Cai Dau and a small collection of Emily Dickinson poems edited by Joyce Carol Oates. One matter linking both poets was the engagement each poet offers with sometimes intolerable states of mind—Komunyakaa’s poems were written almost in a flood of memories and affects years after he left Vietnam, while Dickinson obsessively fashioned her deceptively simple poems as she moved through complicated shifts in mood and ideation throughout her life.
I’ve been impressed once more with how valuable it is to read poems closely in a group context. We typically read a poem twice, if not three times, and move rather slowly through a book of poems so as to deepen our attention to what we experience and construe over time. The process points out how deep attention cannot be taken for granted and must, as Buddhists suggest, be cultivated. We jokingly say to each other that we fear not being able to read poems again alone! The truth is we just add each other to the inner chorus of voices always present when we encounter a new poem.