What We Expect from Our Readers


So last night, my roommate Jack asked me what I expected my readers to do after they read my more serious, didactic poems, the ones about Hiroshima and domestic violence and such. Do I expect to change the world? Do I expect to change my readers?

I think that expectation is not necessarily the best way to phrase the answer. Since people come to read poetry at very different times in their lives, weeks, days, I really cannot expect anything. I can hope, certainly. I can hope that they will feel something and perhaps think something, maybe even things that they have not felt or thought before regarding the topic. And for the people who are ready to change, who knows? Maybe something I write can be a springboard. But really it is more about offering a form of companionship. I write what I write because the flame insists on it. If you recognize something in what I write and you feel you are not alone, then that is how the world starts changing. As Jane Hirshfield says:

“I think compassion, in a way, is one of the most important things poems do for me, and I trust do for other people. They allow us to feel how shared our fates are. If a person reads this poem when they’re inside their own most immediate loss, they immediately — I hope — feel themselves accompanied. Someone else has been here. Someone else has felt what I felt. And, you know, we know this in our minds, but that’s very different from being accompanied by the words of a poem, which are not ideas but are experiences.”

Hirshfield, Jane. “’Windows’ That Transform The World: Jane Hirshfield On Poetry.” 14 March 2015. NPR. Web. 23 March 2015.

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