La fin d’une affaire

The sadness of discovering that a poet you’ve loved for years no longer speaks to you, that her lines no longer resonate — how can this be? Could you have been wrong all along, hearing things that weren’t there? (But poetry is always about what isn’t quite there, isn’t it?) Has reading too many other poets with a markedly different aesthetic spoiled you for hers? You keep taking that one book, your former favorite, off the shelf and trying again, to see if maybe you just have to be in the right mood. But if so, that mood no longer comes. How could you ever have found such dull and predictable work exciting?

Even as you wonder this, it occurs to you that perhaps your craving for excitement and diversion marks you as a shallow reader, a poor listener. You try reading a poem as slowly as possible, pausing often to let the words sink in. Nothing. Gradually you begin to realize that, right or wrong, the heart cannot be ignored, and whoever’s fault it may be, this once great pleasure, this astonishment, will come no more.

And then, three books away on the shelf, you notice one you’ve never opened since the day you brought it home from the book sale…

7 Replies to “La fin d’une affaire”

  1. It was the fear of this experience, maybe, that kept me from reading contemporary writers for so many years. It can happen with classics, but a lot less often, both because of the works themselves and because of the literary conversation that crusts around them and sustains them. A contemporary is out there alone and naked: when the thrill goes there’s nothing else.

  2. Alice Notley has a great essay on this topic — about how one day, after loving Frank O’Hara’s work for many years, it was suddenly dead to her. Simply dead — art, not a living thing, in her words. But then, years later, it came back to life for her.

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