It may be, as Dr. Williams said, “difficult / to get the news from poems,” perhaps because the kind of knowing poems impart has little to do with facts, data, or information gathering and dissemination but rather with the more complex, vexed language of the deep heart’s core. In The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, Sven Birkerts writes that books provide a “place of sanctuary. Not a physical place—not church or office—but a metaphysical one. Depth survives, condensed and enfolded, in authentic works of art.” I know that closely and passionately reading the poems in The Hide-and-Seek Muse, and writing about them for the Chronicle of Higher Education each week, afforded me something akin to the ulterior space Birkerts describes, and it occurs to me that the book might provide for readers, both those accustomed to engaging with poems and those who find poetry difficult, a similar zone of restoration, self-excavation, and linguistic discovery.
In the secondary or college classroom, for example, The Hide-and-Seek Muse offers students a glimpse into the formal, aesthetic, and thematic range of poetry being written in the second decade of our new millennium. The poems themselves are strikingly diverse and compelling, and represent emerging poets in their 20s as well as poets in their seventh and eighth decades. The commentaries model various modes of close reading, offering departure points as well as something to resist in class discussion. The essays about poetry that form the vertebral spine of the text place these manifold poems of our current moment in broader historical and cultural contexts.
It strikes me that writers groups or book clubs, which often shy away from poetry in favor of fiction and non-fiction, might find in this book a way to integrate poetry into the conversation. A week or two could be devoted to the text, with members choosing different poems and commentaries to discuss, or the book might be used over the course of a season or year, with each meeting starting off with a reading of one poem before the club members move on to the prose text at hand.
In his Introduction to The Hide-and-Seek Muse, Nick Flynn refers to the book as a kind of personal breviary: “Everything, it seems, is a daily practice, or at least everything that matters to me. I get the sense that this book in your hands could become part of a daily practice . . . could be a way to infuse poetry into every moment, or to simply reveal how it is already infused, if we can find the thresholds.” Portable enough to carry along or to heft while reading in bed or bath, The Hide-and-Seek Muse is the kind of book that lends itself to all manner of delving—a quick dip in to savor one poem, or a longer foray into a section on poetry and illness, or poetry and the seasons. The book is structured to reward what Anne Carson would call the dabbling, “promiscuous reader” as well as the reader who wants to read from start to finish.
However readers “use” The Hide-and-Seek Muse, I hope that the marvelous poems it gathers and curates move them with even a fraction of the gracious force they have been and continue to be for me.