Poets Online Archive
After Reading
September 2006

There are a fairly good number of  poems about the act of reading. The one I think of first is "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" by John Keats which probably was in an anthology of literature you used in high school or college.

In Tony Hoagland's poem "Reading Moby Dick at 30,000 Feet", I get a nice sense of him moving from the page to the scene around him. In this case, the poet looks for the connection of what he's reading to what he sees, but it might work the opposite way - finding your interpretation of what you are reading based on your "real" world.

The prompt is simply to write a poem that centers on an experience of reading. Choose a specific book (or poem?) and, in keeping with poetic tradition, you might want to use that in your title. The poem is not about the act of reading in general, but at a specific point in time. What gives Hoagland's poem interest for me is how he compares those men on their quest aboard the Pequod to his rather ordinary journey on a ship of the air. 

There's more about this prompt - and readers comments at the Poets Online blog.


God, I read into everything!
Do Not Disturb signs as I walk the hotel corridor
implant adulterous storylines behind
each fake walnut door: Bob boinks his secretary
every Thursday at 2. Successful Lenore has a floozy,
a fancy-man with tattoos, fedora and a lisp.

When hubby says nothing is wrong it means
the sky is falling, of course, he is surely feckless
out of touch, wandering with his disenchanted heart
and randy, ready privates into a hotel room
with green carpet and free HBO.

Meanwhile I am supposed to be reading
a book club book for our neighborhood meeting
when Delia and Sarah and the two Karens and me
will drink too much white wine and argue
over plot and character, desultory, dissecting
we end with talk of kids, car payments
while trying to decide on next month’s read: I vote
for a book I have already read. I don’t tell them
I have read it or that
it is a sexy memoir
into which they will read
their lives fading in triplicate--
They will think that
I am a hussy, they will know
I would rather be waiting, naked
by the floor length mirror
at some hot sheets motel,
but I am not fully written,
still tracing my arc to climax:
at denouement
years before my time.

Patty Tomsky


We are in king-sized bed
With an American quilt of
Blue and white silk diamonds
Cut and sown together to make a torch
Which is without fire.

There is no fire in what we read.
I, in a far corner
She, going over the front page of comics,
Cathy, the obsessive overgrown teenager
Perpetual virgin married to her mother
And not wanting to please her
But recently married to someone who does not matter.

I am familiar with the insides
Of the Sunday cartoons.
My favorite is the Lockhorns
A couple just like us.
Or any married couple
Where the husband forever naps
Between complaints of his wife's cooking
Cajun shoe leather, since Cathy is just married.
And what can you expect.

I wonder if she can find the buttons
Or is she a crying child
With mitten' ed hands on a zipper.

I reach over her
For Cathy's going back and forth
In indecision

The lit bedside lamp
Keeps me awake
So I reach over in tenderness
To pull the string and fold the paper
Else I will never fall away from Locked horns;
And in this situation
Dreams of escape are reality.

Edward N. Halperin


I write D E A R on the board.
Chalk breaks on the R,
ricochets off the ledge
skims across the wooden floor
underneath Jasmine’s foot.
Yellow dust
Acronyms announce instructions to
my class of non-readers,
students ages ten to twelve with R levels below three.
Acronyms written into the daily curriculum by
a Superintendent who makes a yearly visit.
Maybe two.
I gesture towards their desks and chairs,
then move towards my own chair on wheels,
the one on which they enjoy performing hazardous stunts.
Sit and open my Sue Grafton novel and read silently.
Ever the example.
Funny, ...how the title is R for Ricochet,
Like the chalk did.
Solimar swears in Spanish, her home language.
I don’t understand, but Jamal tells me it’s curse words.
Try to concentrate on Kinsey Milhone, lady detective,
keep an eye on the students to see if they comply
with the acronyms.
Quason grunts, guffaws, reaches in his desk and pulls
out his high interest-low level book.
Snorts, some sighs from the rest, but they follow suit.
Kinsey is driving her Volkswagen down the road
by the beach in Santa Theresa where the wind
blows the ocean spray and the colors are
warm, golden hues.
Someone passes gas. Laughter breaks out,
fingers and thumbs pinch noses
until they settle down again.
I wish I was with Kinsey.
For fifteen minutes,
between Basic Math skills and
the Targeted Technology Block,
sixteen students
Drop Everything And Read.
Pretend to read,
 swat flies.
One teacher gets lost in a world
where lady detectives solve problems.

Leigh MacKelvey


Sleeping birds not only dream, but probably dream about the songs they sing during the day.
While asleep, their brains show a burst of activity in the area known to be involved in singing.
“One would expect this area to be quiescent during sleep,” said a biologist.

I am thinking about these zebra finches tonight,
Asleep in their cages, wired for research,
Rehearsing their songs
as I write about them

Scientists played recordings of the birds singing
while the birds were awake, asleep and knocked out with anesthesia,
looking for activity in the robustus archistratalis.

I wonder what dreams I might have
hearing my day's singing played
while I sleep.

The awake birds showed no response,
but the sleeping or unconscious birds showed strong activity. 
When they were awakened, the signals went back to normal.

Zebra finch, I am sorry
you were forced
to listen to your own songs
like a poet.
We both lack that quiet sleep we need
for the unrehearsed singing of tomorrow.

Ken Ronkowitz



Crawl under the covers and let me read you a story of adventure and daring.
It will make you shiver and shake.
To provide for himself and his mother
A boy goes to a faraway land and
Recovers gold coins, a hen that lays golden eggs, and a magic talking harp.
All from a giant who has stolen them
And the castle he lives in from the boy’s father.
How did the boy get there?
“By a beanstalk of course.
It’s the old story of Jack and the beanstalk
I want a tale of adventure and daring
I don’t want know how it ends.”
Crawl under the covers and let me read you a story of adventure and daring
And you will not know how it ends
It will make you shiver and shake, I say
Opening up today’s New York Times.”

Ellen Kaplan


My lady friend an exceptionable woman
wants togetherness and pleasure
without the flourish of courtship or
the fun and games we might be enjoying
I’m suggesting an approach giving
consideration to events covered
in the final chapters of a 30-chapter book
where suspenseful expectation
would be altered to reflect changed events
through the end of Chapter 28
This would offer unclaimed hope to
the long suffering woman and man
by creating engaging untried events and
new memories as lovingly as allowed
Chapter 29 would prove in its entirety
the joy of our togetherness in
a portion of a plot flourishing
with countless doings in parallel countering
the book's frequent heartaches by instilling
respect trust and tenderness
Our re-writing the last three chapters
could create a best seller exploring
a fresh pairing within that oneness
of two characters living their loving years
while conjuring up a delightful Chapter 30

F William Broome

We live in time, so little time
And we learn all so painfully
That we may space this hour’s term
To practice for  eternity   - Robert Penn Warren

Where has it gone, my so little life?
Like spittle on sidewalk - erased by the sun –
Time becomes memory – mere cut of a knife,
Leaving no scar and remembered by none.
Still we’re all crying, as we become old,
“Where has it gone, without reason or rhyme?
What have I done as the years all unfold?”
Why did I think that my life was sublime?
We live in time, so little time

Wisdom is thought to accompany age
”Mama has been there,” so everyone claims.
(Between you and me this Ma is no sage:
‘Been there and done that’ don’t deserve praise
- Mainly because of her many mistakes
Trying to do most everything gainfully.
Why is it that  what she touches soon breaks?
Why for her errors all others she blames?
Remember she never removed a stain  fully?
And we learn all so painfully

Maybe we’re getting this age-thing all wrong
Putting most everything off till tomorrow.
Facing today could well make us strong
‘Specially if joy is diluted with sorrow
And poverty used to make each of us wise
In case we get rich (finding wealth from the germ
Of ideas you read in the tea) and surprise
All of us  used to beg and to borrow.
The moral of this is so younger ones learn
That we may space this hour’s term

THIS is the hour that decides all the future.
TV and day-dreams – no substitute here .
Just as a wound will demand a good suture,
No one gets rich over whiskey and beer.
Give our young lady a challenge worth keeping:
How ‘bout assuming the role of maternity,
As she grows skilled in both cooking and baking;
Only if she’s found a partner most dear
Who isn’t afraid of using  paternity
To practice for eternity

Catherine M. LeGault

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