Tuesday Tip-Simple poems or simplistic?



Kate Bariletti says: Here is a poem i’ve written that may give your group some grist. I am questioning it as to whether it’s beautifully simple or just simplistic. Tui and fantail are birds native to New Zealand. Thanks.

I walk the same path to the lake

a surprise awaits

the chuck of a tui

the tease of a fantail

ground rolled with acorns

kayakers slid through the lake’s loose ruffle

A very good question, Kate. I believe that your poem is simple, not simplistic. A simple poem has singularity and particularity without a lot of filigree. Its meaning is not necessarily simple, though. Think of Dickinson’s “A narrow fellow in the grass.” Or Blake’s  “The Sick Rose.” The language is familiar, the images clear and unmodified, but the depth of meaning is startling in Blake’s case, more subtle in yours. 

Simplistic, on the other hand, is Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees.” No particularity here. It’s a tree, not a blue spruce, a sugar maple, or bristle-cone pine. The personification of the tree as a woman with a bird’s nest hat feels just silly. The rhyme scheme does not add anything despite its tight architecture. In fairness, Kilmer died at age 31, so he never had a chance to mature as a poet. His son has said that Kilmer intended the tree to stand for all trees, but that approach lacks the close observation, the bearing witness to what is, that engages me  in a poem. Kilmer has focused on his cleverly extended metaphor instead of showing me something new and important in the world of experience. Your poem, Kate, does that, shows me that even a familiar landscape can surprise.

I would love for others to comment here. Let’s keep the conversation going. And thanks, Kate, for sharing your work.