Thursday, January 3, 2013

Muscle Confusion

One of my gifts for Christmas from Mary was Come on All You Ghosts, a book of poetry by American poet Matthew Zapruder. I love poetry for many reasons, but I think all the reasons: entertainment, education, introspection, insight, beauty, pretty much all come back to one big appeal for me. Muscle confusion.

You know how cross training is such a successful workout because your body doesn’t know what’s coming next? Your muscles get used to doing one thing, then those muscles increase in power, but the rest maintain their flabbiness and flaccidity. Cross training confuses your muscles, causing them to burn more fat and develop more steadily - or something. I really don’t know much about cross training, having never done it myself. But I think that’s the general idea, and that’s what applies to poetry. Follow me?

Reading novels and biographies, watching movies and having conversations all establish our language patterns in a relatively set way. Very rarely are we surprised by the construction of dialogue or text, although the content occasionally astonishes. I know that I will note a well placed metaphor or turn of phrase, but nothing throws my brain into quite a different gear as does poetry. I love to be surprised by someone’s creativity with words. I like not being able to anticipate what’s coming next. Unpredictability in language is one of my favorite things. I like stretching the brain muscle in its language capacity. I imagine it’s how some people feel about complicated mathematical equations.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from this particular book of poetry.

from "Pocket":

Saying pocket makes me feel potentially
but not yet busy.

from "April Snow":

I feel like a mountain of cell phone chargers

and finally my favorite from "Poem for Ferlinghetti":

That constant humming sound is time
coming to take us
away from each other.
Or the refrigerator,
keeping the milk cold
and pure.

In case you’re wondering, context does little or nothing to change the tone or meaning of these excerpts. They can stand alone or be experienced in a creative symphony of felt words.

All that being said, I don’t love poetry the way I love reading novels or memoirs, nor do I love it as much as a lengthy
conversation. I don't think it’s any more or less valid as a vehicle for communicating thoughts or feelings via word. But it can be a refreshing and invigorating change of pace for the noggin now and then. If you like - and you can comment - you can let me know what you use to exercise the brain. 

Or you can tell me more about cross training for the body.

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