Poetry as Place

One of the English classes I am taking this semester is Twenty-First Century Poetry: Here, Nowhere. The course is taught by the esteemed professor and poet, Lesley Wheeler who is a contributor to the current issue of Shenandoah. In Professor Wheeler’s class we are reading poetry and assessing how the poet describes a real or imagined space. We spent the first part of the term reading works focused on Hurricane Katrina. During the past few weeks I have become immersed in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region, studying poetry by Cynthia Hogue, Nicole Cooley, and Nathasha Trethewey. Although I have never visited New Orleans or its surrounding areas; their poetry transported me to this beautiful, tragic, and unique landscape.

This week, however, we shifted to reading poetry depicting an imagined space, The Hollow Log Lounge by Shenandoah’s very own R.T. Smith, to be exact. I expected that reading poetry about a fictional place would be a completely different experience than reading about an actual place. However, I was surprised by what I discovered. After finishing Smith’s book, The Hollow Log Lounge was just as real of a place to me as the Mississippi Gulf Coast or New Orleans’ French Quarter.

It is the author’s job to transmute a real or imagined space on to the page, so that the place becomes real for the reader. This is the beauty of an immersive reading experience. To me, there are few better experiences then becoming totally engrossed in a poem or work of fiction. What are your thoughts on immersive reading? Do you think it is a detrimental experience? Is it better for the reading to be constantly aware of the author’s artifice?


About Lauren Starnes

Senior at Washington and Lee University. Originally from Chattanooga, TN. Majoring in English.

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One Response to Poetry as Place

  1. Tim McAleenan says:

    I hate when authors get pretentious about imagined places. Eliot is probably my favorite poet, but when I read his work, I feel as if I’m reading something musical (as opposed to being taken away to a faraway place, which in this case, is mutually exclusive), and I think that an author has to go out of his or her way to be accessible with their diction if they intend to take the reader away. Sometimes, I’ll read poetry and feel like I’m translating from Spanish to English, Shakespeare to English, or whatever it may be, and I think that the most successful poets that “take the reader away” are able to cut through this mental translation phase.

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