Reading and Discussion Guide to This Is Where by Louise K. Waakaa’igan
This guide is designed to help you dive into This Is Where, the 2021 selection for “Read Poetry Central Minnesota,” and enjoyably discuss this book with fellow readers.
Poetry Reading Guide
Enhance Your Poetry Reading Pleasure in 5 easy steps:
- If you’re feeling at all intimidated about reading poetry, boost your confidence with “How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual” by Pamela Spiro Wagner, a short, easy to understand poem that ends with the empowering words, “Congratulations. You can now read poetry.” ( Find “How to Read a Poem” on the web at: https://poets.org/poem/how-read-poem-beginners-manual )
- View this 3-minute video of Louise K. Waakaa’igan reading and talking about the opening poem of her collection, “Within.”
- A collection of poems is like a heart-shaped box of assorted chocolates. Don’t gorge! Read just one or two at a sitting.
- Approach each poem with curiosity. Let go of all your presumptions about what poetry is or what it should be. Suspend your need to understand. There is no code to crack. A poem is not a math problem with a single right answer. Poems are like people, often puzzling. The more time you spend with them, the more intimately you will come to know them. And maybe their bewildering quirks will become the very things you treasure.
- Read each poem like you’re opening a new bottle of wine. Noticing the shape of the poem on the page is like pouring wine into a glass to assess its color. Next, read it through. That’s like sniffing it to catch it’s bouquet. Now read it out loud. Let it swish it around in your mouth and acquaint yourself with its many flavor notes.
That’s all you need to do. Congratulations. You are a reader of poetry.
Poetry Discussion Guide
3 imaginative ways to talk about poems:
First, relax. This is not a college course in literature. Resist any compulsion to be an A-student, and don’t compare your experience of the poem to that of other participants. Simply come together as imaginative collaborators. Think of this as a coffee klatsch where you gossip about poems. In the same way you might ask a friend what they know about so-and-so’s character or reputation, you might learn something about the poem from someone else’s relationship to it. But perhaps more importantly, you’ll have a chance to deepen your connection to the people who join you in conversation.
- Find the message in the bottle: In How to Read a Poem, Edward Hirsch writes: “Imagine you have gone down to the shore and there, amidst the other debris—the seaweed and rotten wood, the crushed cans and dead fish— you find an unlikely looking bottle from the past. You bring it home and discover a message inside. This letter, [this poem] so strange and disturbing, seems to have been making its way toward someone for a long time, and now that someone turns out to be you.” Let someone select a short poem to read aloud, while everyone else pretend to be the recipient of the poet’s yearning to connect with someone who will understand her message. Talk about what in the poem puzzles you. What touches your heart?
- Discover the magic: Poets use language to put a spell on language, to enchant us with incantation. Choose one of the longer poems, and let someone volunteer to read it aloud while everyone else listens for a phrase with the rhythmical potency of a nursery rhyme, riddle, or magic spell. Allow for a brief moment of silence after the reader has finished, and then take turns interrupting the silence by speaking a “spell,” a phrase or a line from the poem where the language feels elevated, extraordinary. If someone chants your chosen phrase before you do, just say it again. Repetition adds power to the charm.
- Participate in the sacred mysteries: Poets work with metaphorical language to show us the unrecognized or forgotten relationships. A poem depends on a reader’s active, imaginative participation in apprehending the connection between two unlikely things. For example, in this poem, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) makes the singing of a nightingale into a metaphor for writing poetry. Listening to the bird’s music is his metaphor for reading poetry, showing how a writer and a reader, separated by distance and years, come together in mysterious intimacy:
A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer
its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced
by the medley of an unseen musician, who feel that they
are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why.
By making sense of a metaphor, we imaginatively join with the poet in an act of co-creation. This, Mr. Hirsch writes, “engages us in something deeper than intellect and emotion. And through this process the reader becomes more deeply initiated into the sacred mysteries of poetry.” Let someone volunteer to read one of the poems, then talk about the poem’s metaphors—the ways in which one thing stands for, or represents another.
For a deeper experience of poetry
Read the entire first chapter of Edward Hirsch’s book How to Read a Poem, published online by the Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69955/how-to-read-a-poem