Why It’s Important to Take a Break from Reading Your Genre
I’ve read a lot of poetry books this past year. Probably more poetry books than in the years working since undergraduate, I’m a bit sad to say. But part of the benefit of being back in school is that you have to read. During graduate school this past year, I read a poetry book every week.
When I moved back to Minnesota for the summer, I had a tall ambition to read all these poetry books and books on craft. I would read the classics, the contemporary, books written by poets of color, books published by independent presses, and many others. Summer would be the time to “catch up,” three glorious months where I would fill the holes in my poetry knowledge and library, undisturbed by the naggings of a required reading list, a slew of academic articles, and seminar papers.
I realized, though, that I was already trapping myself into a required list. As I unloaded my car from a 16-hour road trip, I realized that all I wanted to do was sleep. Sit or lie down and daydream for a while. Look at the scenery.
Embedded in these simple acts was one more: I wanted to read a book for fun, something not required, something that would not push me in the direction of a project, something that didn’t guilt me for not reading it earlier.
It was thrilling to start a novel. I read for a couple of hours and found it comforting to let my mind linger in long form, to be invested in a story for a long period of time. I finished reading that novel and, so far, am at the beginning of another one, in the midst of a couple of poetry books, a third of the way through a book of essays, and in the beginning chapters of a self-help book.
One of my peers spoke about how reading creative nonfiction really helped her develop her manuscript. Before I left, I asked her to send me a recommended book list. The lyric essay and poetry have close ties; I can see those poetic threads unravel over a more extended period of time in a lyric essay than I can in poetry. I think watching this pattern will help, somehow, with my writing in the future. I ask questions such as, what are the different strategies that can create a sense of dwelling in a space for a specific period of time in a form that grants smaller real estate? What are the different ways that genre can be disrupted or hybridized? Reading other genres can help inform your primary genre and may open up a way for you to tackle your writing that you had never thought of before.
I am taking my time getting through the books without the pressure of a deadline. I’m reading at my own pace, leisurely, without a self-destructive tendency toward perfection or trying to get “x” amount of reading down in “x” amount of time. In this way, reading can be an act of kindness that you present to yourself.
Emylisa Warrick is the summer 2016 Marketing and Communications Intern for the Loft. She is a Poetry MFA Candidate at the University of South Carolina and the Poetry Editor for Yemassee. She is also a contributor to The MFA Years blog.