“In reading we are reliving our temptations to be a poet.” Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, xxvi.
What do you do with a sentence like this? This sentence sentences us to rethink reading all over again. We take for granted the very task of learning to read and the battle we went through in coming to some degree of facility in this quotidian task. We forget how we battled to make sense of those pesky letters that sometimes played tricks on us. First a “gh” is a “ghost” then we think it “through” until we have had “enough.” Reading is hard work. It is brain breaking work to wrestle some sense from those pictographs that have morphed over the century: sights made sounds made sights all over again. These sights are now sites for contention and confusion.
Bachelard knows something of this battle which is reading, which is writing, which is seeing, which is being attentive to where we are and to what we see. He knows well, as the fine philosopher that he is, that where there is wrestling, there is truth and so he invites us to play Jacob and to refuse to defuse this battle until a blessing bids us “farewell.”
What is the blessing that reading bestows on us? Bachelard seems to suggest that this blessing is behind our hidden aspiration to be a poet. But why a poet? I’m not sure that I’m convinced. I can imagine that many aspire to be a movie star, or a musician, or a great athlete. But a poet? Maybe we need remember what poetry is. The very word poet comes from the Greek word for making. Poets make. They craft confusion where “common sense” stifles vision. They incite inspiration where duty has dulled passion. Poets turn the world upside down. Luther once said that the Holy Spirit is the best poet of all: arresting our self-certainty and cutting our apron strings to pious platitudes. Tongues of fire consume satisfaction with the status quo and demand that all be given voice, especially those who are under-valued, under-represented and under-ground.
When we read, we relive our temptation to be a poet. When we read poetically we serve notice of our “No” to complacency. May your reading feed your writing; may your reading set your pen on fire; may your reading rewrite you.