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     Students seem to feel increased pressure when a class turns to poetry, and they often try far too hard to read the poem. They've gotten caught up in the idea that a poem has A meaning, one absolute, determinable meaning, and if they don't get it (what they think the teacher wants out of the poem), they're wrong. Right and wrong don't disappear completely when reading poetry, but they certainly become broader and more flexible. Rules relax, and so should the reader. Sometimes it's best to treat poetry more like cloud watching just a few minutes before sundown.

     Cloud watching can't be forced. The harder you try to make a cloud look like a walrus, the more it looks like a cloud. For cloud watching, you kick back, relax, and let your mind wander into that state where it's open and playful. When you learn to trust your brain to do what it's there for, you suddenly see more with far less effort and little or no stress. Suddenly the sky fills with dragons morphing into terriers and teddy bears. Okay, there are days when clouds are too few or too many, but there's always something to be read. I'm particularly fond of wood grains, which is why there's a sideways gremlin staring from the paneling above the computer as I write.

    As you play with the clouds, more and more possibilities unfold, and if nobody else quite agrees that one of those clouds is a duck, that's fine. After a while, the sun lowers enough to begin filling the clouds with color, and another new world opens as you feel a revelation coming on. After playing with clouds or poems long enough, ideas and perceptions fall into place to produce the "Aahh" reaction that you get when looking at a beautiful sunset. Look closer, and that aahh starts to fade a bit as you see that the striking red sky is really striking reds and blues, even greens and a few other colors.

    That first aahh is pleasant, but it's also a bit dangerous because it feels like a stopping point. I'll admit that when you begin looking closer there comes a stretch where you lose some of the sense of pleasure. You've discovered before that analysis can shatter joy, but what you probably haven't learned is there's a place that analysis can take you to where the first aahh blossoms from pleasure into understanding, a type of understanding that goes well beyond intellect. Sometimes, artists still dare to talk about truth. Truth can never be captured by art or even by nature, for truth in a box isn't truth. What you achieve is the realization that there is truth, and it's something much larger than right or wrong. Oh, and you also get a sense of what the poem is playing with.