page numbers in poetry books

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The Irony of Pagination in Poetry Books

Thought for the Day: A novel that is 350 pages is 350 pages; a poetry collection that is 77 pages is not 77 pages.

Why? Because, with the poetry book, when you like a couple of lines, you stop and reread those couple of lines.

Why? Because, with a poetry book, when you like a poem, you stop and reread that poem, sometimes three or four times, to fully savor its secrets.

Why? Because, with a poetry book, when you like the whole shebang, you do not lament coming to the end, you immediately restart to enjoy the book all over again, finding something new in each poem. There is no ending to ruin. There are no spoilers to hamper you.

Thus, when I reread a 77 pager by turning from page 77 back to page 1, it becomes a 154 pager. Add to that the pages I reread the first time (and I’ve lost track) and you see that even the number 154 is wrong.

Conclusion: When it’s good, a poetry collection’s pagination is superfluous. Maybe it will help you find certain poems, if that be your wish. But really, with poetry being as rich and dense as it is, there’s no need for such niceties as page numbers.

Good poetry keeps giving. Like a yeast bread newly covered after kneading, it grows and expands because it is alive. Its brevity, then, is ironic. Deliciously so.