Last week I read at West Side Books in Denver. The poems were mostly from RED GODDESS POEMS, including one that tells a story about the shape shifting abilities of the ban filid, mythical women with the power to change their appearance–without mascara or blush. The women my poem “The Warriors” have a disagreement that yields, finally, a roaring battle in succession between a fox, a black cow, a big cat, and two griffins–you know, those creatures with big teeth and wings. They injure each other, but once their rage is spent, they resume their human female forms, retaining for a while their folded wings and bearing scars that remind us of their power to hurt and to heal. They walk away together, no grudge held.
After the poem, Larry, a fellow poet, asked me what I meant by this poem. Well, how would I know? I wrote it twenty years ago, but I’m no slouch in the confabulation department. It has to do, I said, with the transformations women undergo, you know, the maiden, mother, crone thing. He thought I had focused on the violence with which these women fought. Maybe he was right, maybe I was. Probably both. That’s the thing with a poem, if it’s the real thing: there’s a depth and breadth of meaning. A poem might first reinforce the ready-made ideas each of us brings to it . Then again, the poem can spark insight or epiphany. Each time we hear it or read it, we are different, a little more experienced with life. So, yes, Larry, it had to do with violence and hurt, and it had to do with women’s power, and their history of transformation.
Frost said, “No surprise for the poet, no surprise for the reader.” And surprise equals energy, keeps the poem and the reader awake and alert for what might come next. I can hardly wait to read it to another group and see if anyone comes up with some new idea that I didn’t know was there. And may it not take twenty years before I ask myself what I mean and what the poem means.