In the end, putting together a guide to the sonnets, I decided I'd write it in the form of a diary. That's to say I read the sonnets as you would any other book, fitting them round my work routine and domestic obligations. So rather than lock myself in the library for six months, I wrote my commentaries on the poems while awake, bored, half-asleep, full of cold, drunk, exhausted, serene, smart, befuddled and stupid. I wrote on the train, in bed, in the bath and in my lunch-break; I wrote them while I was fed up marking papers, or stuck on Bioshock on the Playstation, while I was watching the bairns, Family Guy or the view out of the window.
The idea was to find a way of giving the sonnets more of a direct and personal reading than they usually receive. This requires making a firm distinction between two kinds of reading. Most literary criticism, whether academic or journalistic, is ideally geared up for "secondary reading" – by which I mean all that stuff that requires us to generate some kind of secondary text – a commentary, an exegesis, a review and so on. By contrast, a primary reading doesn't have to articulate its findings. It engages with the poem directly, as a piece of trustworthy human discourse – which doesn't sound too revolutionary, but the truth is that many readers don't feel like that about poetry any more, and often start with: "But what does it all mean?" on the assumption that "that's how you read poetry".
But that isn't the kind of the first reading most poems hoped they were going to get. The poem has much more direct designs on us. Its plan was to make us weep or change our opinion of something forever. The sonnets are no different, but currently give the appearance of being approachable only via a scholarly commentary.
I've long been fascinated by Paterson's inclination toward the idea of the poem as mystical and sentient, with its own subjective designs on the reader, and the poet as shaman or medium. I'm fairly certain I don't agree with that view, but I acknowledge its attraction. [See his TS Eliot Lecture that I've linked to in this post.]