He likes to write in the margins
and between the lines
of poems in the books he owns;
she prefers to leave the pages of hers
pristine, the voice of the writer
uninterrupted by any noise
from the sidelines.
He speaks of engagement with the text,
intimacy, a give and take
between reader and poet.
She says his way’s a violation;
he says what good’s a virginal page?
You’re no better, she tells him,
than the disrespectful person in the auditorium
who rattles a program during the violinist’s
They read in bed together, his hand starring
and underlining and checkmarking
what he loves or leaving a spoor
of commentaries beside passages, her hand moving
only to turn the page.
They are the yin and yang of poetry readers,
complementary halves of a complete circle.
She can’t read his books because of the static
in their white space; he can’t read hers
lest he reach for a pen. Their libraries
watch each other warily across the room.
Author’s Comment: Robert Bly says that whatever is true is worth exaggerating; accordingly this poem takes a personal situation and, for the sake of the story, exaggerates it. The wariness at the end, the absoluteness of the divide between the two readers, and their give-and-take are all inventions, but inventions based upon my partner and me. The liberties I take reflect my belief in “caveat emptor” for readers: never assume that a poem–even if a seemingly heartfelt lyric–reflects the writer’s personal life. You might be fooled, and it won’t be the writer’s fault.
Bio: Philip Dacey’s latest of twelve books of poetry is Gimme Five, which won the Blue Light Press 2012 Book Award. He is the author of entire collections about Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Eakins as well as two books of sonnets, one of them what he calls “New York postcard sonnets.” His work has appeared in such leading periodicals as The Nation, Hudson Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, The Paris Review, and Partisan Review, and with David Jauss he co-edited Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional.