Woeful Targets

I had to add this to my online common place book:

“Remember this, son, if you forget everything else. A poet is a musician who can’t sing. Words have to find a man’s mind before they can touch his heart, and some men’s minds are woeful small targets. Music touches their hearts directly no matter how small or stubborn the mind of the man who listens.”

The Name of the Wind. Patrick Rothfuss. pg 106

How to Read a Poem

Thoughts from an amateur.

I’ve written before on how to to write a poem. Followed by how to truly write a poem – study Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook and then practice.

But reading a poem is a whole different pack of monkeys.

I developed this weird method to help me absorb the poems I read. It slows me down, so I don’t rocket through the lines. The aim is to bury the verses in my subconscious.

See if it works for you.


First I read the poem to myself. From the first verse to the last, all the way through.

Then I’ll read the poem from the end to the beginning. I read line by line, from the final verse, back up to the opener:

From Over the Fence, Emily Dickinson

Reading it backwards is like reverse engineering. It helps me see the poem’s structure. How each verse builds up to the final one.

After that, I’ll read the poem beginning to end again, but this time out loud.

Reading out loud helps you find the poem’s rhythm. I’m sure there’s things like meter and tone involved as well, but I won’t pretend to know how.

Then I’ll read the poem in reverse order again. But this time in full blocks. Starting from the bottom of the poem to the top:

From Again his voice is at the door, Emily Dickinson

While reading I’ll keep a pencil close. If the poem rhymes I search for the rhyming pattern by underlining all the rhyming words.

From Again his voice is at the door, Emily Dickinson

Once finished, I’ll log the date, author, and name of the poem in my steno book. Keeping a record gives me a sense of progress.

It’s a practice I stole the from director Steven Soderbergh who publishes a yearly log of what he’s watched, read, and listened to, on his site.

This how I read a poem. You may read a poem once and bin it. And that works too.

The Look Up Artist

I underline words as I read.

My reasons vary.

A word sounds smooth in my head.

A word sounds crisp when spoken out loud.

It may be a fancy word I want to remember, like say, pretentious. But fancy words are like my Air Jordan 11s – you pull them out only for special occasions.

After underlining a word, I make a silent promise to myself. I promise to return to the page. I promise to grab a real-life dictionary and look up the definition.

I break these promises to myself almost every time.

But today I kept it.

Definitions from a few pages from Dryer’s English:

Ossified v. – cease developing; become inflexible.

Fundament n. – 1 the foundation or basis of something. 2 humorous a person’s buttocks or anus.

Knell n. – the sound of a bell, especially when rung solemnly for a death or funeral.

Keeping promises always satisfies.

The Manual for Civilization: a curation of books for our future

The Long Now Foundation has scrambled up the the idea of a reading list.

Instead of the typical what we’re reading now list. Or, our favorite summer reads list. They’ve asked us to imagine reading beyond our lifetimes by posing the question:

What Books Would You Choose to Restart Civilization?

With the the goal of:

Gathering essential books and democratizing human knowledge for future generations.

It’s ambitious. It’s thoughtful. It’s called:

The Manual For Civilization.

There have been 11 contributors to date, but Kevin Kelly’s list via Medium introduced me to the project.

Kevin, the author of the Inevitable, and host of the stupid-dope-fresh podcast Cool Tools, assembled a list of nearly 200 tomes.

Below are three titles from Kevin’s list that piqued my immediate interest.

The Manual for Civilization has me meditating on this idea of a reading list for the future. I’m asking myself:

What books would I select, and why? 
Which books would a scholar or intellectual from an eastern culture select?
Which books would you select?

Check out Kevin’s list in full here, and the rest of the contributors here.