Poetry Introduction Poetry Suggestions “My poems – I should suppose everybody’s poems- are set to trip the reader head foremost into the boundless. Ever since infancy I have had the habit of leaving my blocks, carts, chairs, and such like ordinaries where people would be pretty sure to fall forward over them in the dark. Foreword, you understand, and in the dark” (Robert Frost – 1927 letter) 1. It’s helpful to think of poetry like a piece of popular music. The similarities between the two are great. A poem exists in time – is read (sometimes listened to), experienced, spun out – like a piece of music. 2. A poem would be dull if it gave away everything at once, with no gradually growing awareness or surprises for the reader. The full truth is meant to appear at the end, and sometimes perhaps not readily at all. Be patient as a reader. Do not expect immediate gratification. Scholar David Sohn comments on this reality effectively: All good poetry seems to talk about one thing while really talking about something else. This is because the most important statements about life cannot be understood simply in a sentence. They require investigation for an understanding. A good poem, like a full life, may appear simple on the surface, but has many undercurrents of meaning. The investigation of a poem can reveal the proper interpretation of the poet’s statement. 3. By the end (after multiple readings ) things should fall in place for the reader. Remembering or half- remembering the earlier lines, the reader sees the whole thing at once – not in time – just as the listener “sees” the whole melody or song as it is complete. Like songs, poems become more recognizable and familiar as they are experienced repeatedly. The best understanding of a poem is attained through repeated reading . 4. The individual reader responds partly to what is really there in the poem, partly in terms of his own temperament, training, and needs. That is why no two responses to a poem will be the same . That is why no individual response can be the “full truth” about the poem itself or be perfectly convincing to anyone else. That is why some responses (paying better attention to what is really there and to what can be seen by others) do seem “good” or “right” or “adequate,” whereas other responses seem “weak” or “far fetched” or “just plain wrong.” 5. The “wrong” interpretation can be of great personal importance to an individual. Lives have been changed by atrociously misinterpreted performances of Hamlet, and there is nothing silly or unimportant about the effect. The “wrong” interpretation is rarely completely divorced from the facts, the things that are really there in the poem. Often, the “wrong” interpretation contains far more perceptive responses to a minor element in the poem than does the “right” interpretation. Ultimately, it fails to conceive of the poem in its entirety.
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