“On The Experience of Reading Poetry (& Other Things)” by Joseph Cassara

When I read a good poem, I want to jam out each line and hot glue fragments to my bare-chested nipples, to truly embody the poem. I want to hustle on the corner for eight hours a day as a performance art piece called My Nipples Burn For Truth. It would bring grown men to tears because the sound of a man weeping is the sound of poetry.

This was not always the case. There was a time when I felt differently. Things don’t necessarily change because things are abstract, but words change. Over time, meanings change.

Time is fluid and inebriating and changes the way we hold things dear. When I was a child, a slice of poetry was pizza to me. I had a thing for circles and melted cheese.

Poetry is the last fortune cookie on the table, the one that tells you how to speak happiness in Cantonese and makes lottery number suggestions that leave you dreaming. But merely cookie slip suggestions, not a crumb crumble guide. Never a guide. Sometimes there’s a smiley face, but never a guide.

I never save the fortune slip though. The good ones are memorable enough. Never let your fortune slip through the cracks.

Poetry is free in theory. You can find it or steal it. You can decoupage it if you’re feeling ekphrastic and nasty. Cut it, varnish it, lacquer it on your bare frame with your grandmother’s glue gun. When she asks why, tell her you’re building a body of work, that’s why.

She’s the only one who will ever love you for who you want to be.

Verse often gives the illusion of freedom, then you realize that you’re keeping, counting, doing time hard.

Rhyming is like sex with a psychotic ex-lover. Rhyming schemes; so does he. Quietly manipulating the couplet’s end of the line. Just couple the words and see where it goes. It will always go to the somewhere you never thought.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s just eh.

A bad rhyme will make you wonder why you wanted to rhyme in the first place.

Poetry takes a certain liberty, of course.  One night, after a martini or four, while considering the metaphysics of a metaphor, under the table or under the host, demand people call you by your drag name, Dotty.

Poetry is the day you stay home to watch the Maury baby daddy marathon, telling people you’re sick, hoping for snow, because you realize that even test results can’t tell you the things you don’t want to know about the people you loved. It speaks full to that space between people who speak words like strings you can’t see but somehow feel. Ultimately it comes down to new life, and the men who want to walk away, who want to dance on couches and say, Bitch, I told you so.

Men can stare at you in front of a live audience and say, I can do this. I can leave you.

Poetry will never leave you.

When you hear people speak of poetry, they seem to imply that she is dying or already dead. But poetry is what is lost in translation, and loss is so common that it can never die. The Romans knew this.

Poetry is alive and thriving. She is at a language camp making friendship bracelets with her friends. They are running in circles, playing language games in the summer sun.

These people who claim that poetry is dead say they are so pronoun. I’m so pronoun, they say, I’m so anti-verb. I’m just so over the verb. I’m totally and utterly post-verb. They will claim we are living in a post-verb world. No need to signify temporality, they say. So post.

Understand: they are ridiculous.

These people are adorned in ways poems should never be adorned. These people do things for irony’s namesake, but irony is a grumpy old man who doesn’t want things done in, or for, or out of his sake.

Irony is not tinsel. Poetry is not a Christmas tree.

Adjectives are flourishes added to bread to make it leaven. Adverbs are superfluous. When a word is both a noun and a verb, that is marriage.

A colon isn’t the only organ in a sentence that breaks in two.

As for the exclamation point. Let’s not even go there.

Actually, let’s go there. The exclamation point is like that excited girl from junior high who was just always oh my god about everything. Everything about it. (It is also the most phallic of all punctuation marks. Which explains the excitement, possibly.)

A good exclamatory sentence, if it is written well enough, should never need a point to mark it except for the point being made. The words should speak for themselves because words are performative. That is what they do.

A rare breed can do violence to poetry, but poetry will never die. Poems are dangerous and even Plato knew this. Poems are impenetrable and can survive without lungs for a very long time. This is a fact. It has been proven. I read about it in a science journal that is highly regarded by many experts in the field.

Poets are rulers of their own banished republics, holding signs that say, Honk If You Loved Jesus; and, Do Not Abandon All Ye Hope.

Because the page is its own place.

Poetry is the soft unsettled moan. The button praying to be undone. The pen as needle, the paper as cloth. It’s always found. Keep your eye out or someone else will.

Orpheus said, I will never look back for fear you will disappear a second time. But Eurydice? Her silence was the final caesura that has resounded throughout time, the empty echo that we fill with nothing but poetry itself, the saddest song the gods have ever heard.

More nonfiction at Used Furniture.


  1. […] Used Furniture Review, Joseph Cassara, Tyler Gobble, Christina Murphy, Chloe Caldwell, Joe Kapitan, Corey Mesler, and an interview with […]

%d bloggers like this: