For Madmen Only

by Matthew Koslowski on November 4, 2009
in Essays

In This Essay

Steppenwolf: A Novel by Hermann Hesse (Basil Creighton, trans.)
The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (Richard J. Finneran, ed.)
Don Juan in Hell: From Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw

Last night I finished rereading Steppenwolf. I had put it down for a while and flitted among the arts.

I know for certain I am in the middle of two other novels. But I think I may have forgotten that I am in the middle of any number of others.

The past few weeks have been filled with theatre and opera.

As if that were not enough, I have been reading from the poetry of Rumi, W.B. Yeats, and John Keats. In fact, I have been working on memorizing Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.” I have the first stanza of ten lines memorized; only seventy lines left to commit to memory.

“Why are you spreading yourself so thin?” I asked myself earlier.

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The Prestige in Poetry

Around the time I decided to launch Literature&Literacy on, my friend Simon Brown was promoting his blog Written Word as a venue for publishing and discussing his poems. Because of the conversations about poetry we had had when we both attended Ohio Wesleyan University–or, at least, so I like to think–he asked me to read his work.

One of his poems in particular, “Reflections” caught my attention. The imagery was stirring, the voice intriguing. But I did not understand the poem.  I saw a collage of images without a narrative instead of a cohesive whole.

I discussed the parts of it that I did not understand. He explained what the narrative was supposed to be: I reread the poem and, knowing the narrative, the poem opened up and became intelligible. But the narrative he provided was not present in the poem.

I began to think of how a poem functions, how understanding and surprise are built into a poem.

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