(Carl Sandburg poetry manuscript photo by Ben Woloszyn via news.illinois.edu)

(Carl Sandburg poetry manuscript photo by Ben Woloszyn via news.illinois.edu)

Alice B. Fogel is poised to become the next Poet Laureate in New Hampshire, following in the footsteps of Donald Hall, Maxine Kumin, Jane Kenyon, Patricia Fargnoli, and others. Governor Maggie Hassan recently appointed Fogel to the five-year position.

Fogel’s third book, Be That Empty, was a national poetry bestseller in 2008, and in 2009 Strange Terrain (on how to appreciate poetry without “getting” it) came out. Nominated six times for the Pushcart, her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Robert Hass’s Poet’s Choice, and she has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, among other awards. A new collection, Interval: Poems Based upon Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which won the Nicholas Schaffner Award for a literary work that deals with the influence of music, is forthcoming in 2014.

Alice Fogel (Photo by Mariah Edson)

Alice Fogel (Photo by Mariah Edson)

The mission of Fogel’s book Strange Terrain is twofold: to demystify poetry for intelligent readers who just don’t feel all that comfortable with the stuff, and to show that the mystery that remains is something not only to accept, but to be thankful for. The book’s eight steps painlessly, and often humorously, help readers move through a poem, and be moved by it, without having to know—or pretend to know—what it “means.”

One of Alice’s goals as Poet Laureate is to get copies of Strange Terrain into state schools, libraries and reading groups, where she hopes the book will inspire students and adults to read more poetry.

Today Gwarlingo shares one of the introductory chapters of Strange Terrain—“Poetry is an Art.” Then Alice offers up a few challenging poems from New Hampshire poet Jennifer Militello and her new book, Body Thesaurus.

“My intention here is…to start you on your own path through poetry,” writes Alice.

“What happens when we read so-called ‘difficult’ poetry—poetry that does not readily ‘make sense’—is not unlike what happens to us when we look at abstract art. What is being represented is not the concrete aspects of our lives—landscape, portrait, objects—so much as the internal responses we have to them. This is why I find the experience of abstract art—and of nonlinear poetry—to be so valuable. We as viewers and readers do not receive answers; instead we are implicated as accomplices in the conspiratorial search for meaning.”

Fogel’s perspective is a fascinating and useful entry point to poetry. And the poems by Jennifer Militello are the perfect foil to explore her ideas. I hope you enjoy Alice’s essay as much as I did.

Poetry is an Art
Or: How to Not “Get” Poetry

by Alice B. Fogel