I've been hearing & reading a recurring sentiment since the election: I can't read fiction right now. That I hear it most commonly from those I consider "serious readers" (those who don't read fiction strictly for entertainment or diversion), is cause for concern -- as I understand both the importance they place on reading and the mournful loss they're experiencing at not being able to do so.
I have a suggestion. It will sound so pithy that some of you will stop reading. But here goes: try poetry.
Let me stop you at the first all-too-common, immediate objection: "But I don't know how to read poetry." Nonsense. You're not dead. If you're this far into this post, you're obviously still breathing: that's all it takes. The rest is negotiable.
Some poems are meant to be read quickly, the ideas seemingly less important than their expression. I'm not going to tell you whose or which these are. Because like anything worth reading, poems beg to be read askew (I like that word): at different paces, in many places, and in enclosed (for a moment, like a photo) by as many frames as there are minds. The poem will tell you when to breathe -- but here's a secret, you can tell the poem, "No ... not just yet ... not here." The poet might object, but the poem won't suffer for it. It's really okay.
Some poems are stuffed with ideas. They're in a rage about something, even if you don't know quite what. You're not even sure if they do. The good ones are talking their way into a problem; beware the ones with solutions you immediately agree with. The ones that too quickly talk themselves out of trouble are usually not to be trusted. They're either a huckster or a friend -- though possibly both. Poets like C.D. Wright, my obsession this year, don't want to be your friend -- and the aces up their sleeves are clearly from another deck. They want you inhabiting the ideas. With or without them, they'll nudge you further along, in search of the last reference, until you're alone with it. From there, you're on your own. But only until the next page -- really, trust me, it's okay.
But why poetry at all, you might be wondering? There's political theory! There's philosophy! There's work to be done, Brad!
Because from time to time, you need to eat.