This question from Fran, in Arizona: When you read poetry, are you mentally taking it apart as you read it or do you reread it a few times after you enjoy the message and then get really impressed with the work as an art form?
I am such a fussbudget about reading poetry. I’ve read a gazillion poems in my life and developed some good and bad habits as a reader. If the first lines don’t hook me, I often quit right away. If I’m overly familiar with a poem and not much in love with it, I quit. Titles matter to me. A great title is like a good handshake and a smile when I meet someone new. It draws me in and makes me want to know more.
So I guess, Fran, I do begin taking the poem apart. But a really energetic, fresh poem overcomes judgmental me and sweeps me along. Any genre of writing does that. We all know about great opening lines in novels, how they hook us. Same thing goes for a reader of poems. The title and first line of a good bit of poetry set up expectations. Then, if the energy and freshness hold, I want to read it again. And reading again, I find more artistry.
Too many people were taught to disassemble a poem to find the real meaning, as if the poet were hiding in the weedy words and making us hunt for the good stuff while he snickers at our confusion. No, that’s not why poetry sometimes defies complete understanding. Sometimes the poet is obtuse and cannot say what she means at all. Sometimes she is caught in the cleverness of language at the expense of significant meaning. Great poems, however, do so much at once that we must go back again and again to get it all.
The promised tip sheet is available. WordPress is being a bit fussy, so if you don’t see a Downloads tab at the top of this page, use the search option, type in downloads and it will take you to a link: poets’ tip sheet. You can print it, double sided, fold in thirds and tuck it into your notebook. I certainly welcome comments on either Fran’s question or the tip sheet. I’ll see you all on Friday’s blog and again next Tuesday on Tip Day.