Chant the Poem

From Scott Horton’s essay, “The Anatomy of Influence”: Six Questions for Harold Bloom (Harper’s Magazine):

For my poetry students, there is a process I commend — take a poem that finds you, I will tell them, read it to yourself, then go to a quiet place, to your own space, and chant that poem, come to possess it. Find the space that the daimon of that poem inhabits and occupy it yourself. Then I ask my students to read the poem aloud in class. At this point in my life I find I’ve spent far too much time talking in class myself, and it is a pleasure for me now to listen to them. They are very bright, maybe brighter than students from decades ago, though also perhaps less well read. But I’ll ask my students also to begin a process of exegesis, to pull apart the thoughts of the poem, to delve into the words used, and that also is a process of appropriating, of coming to possess the poem, making it your own. But back to your point: poetry is an art of sound as much as an art of the printed word. The great work of poetry is to help us become free artists of ourselves. That work requires us to hear, and not merely to read, the poetry.

This process is also immensely important to the training and preparation of the mind. It was essential to the old tradition in education, a tradition to which we bid farewell in our graduate schools in the sixties. Now we live in an age of distraction, an age dominated by bombardment coming from the screen. Poetry, the process of making poetry your own, can be a refuge from that bombardment. But it’s also an essential disciplining of the mind, preparing one to think and speak critically and well.

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