Does the Poet or Reader Make the Poem?

The first thing that pops up when I google “how to write a poem” is Poetry Writing: 10 Tips on How to Write a Poem. Here is an excerpt from the website:

If you are writing a poem because you want to capture a feeling that you experienced, then you don’t need these tips. Just write whatever feels right. Only you experienced the feeling that you want to express, so only you will know whether your poem succeeds.

If, however, your goal is to communicate with a reader — drawing on the established conventions of a literary genre (conventions that will be familiar to the experienced reader) to generate an emotional response in your reader — then simply writing what feels right to you won’t be enough.

These tips will help you make an important transition:

  • away from writing poetry to celebrate, commemorate, or capture your own feelings (in which case you, the poet, are the center of the poem’s universe)
  • towards writing poetry in order to generate feelings in your reader (in which case the poem exists entirely to serve the reader).

This made me wonder which type of poetry we are leaning towards. I’m guessing we’re leaning towards the latter type, where the objective is to “generate feelings in your reader.” It doesn’t say “make your reader feel your own feelings,” but instead it just leaves it at “generate feelings.” This then makes me think that perhaps a poem could still be successful even if the reader does not understand the poet’s original motives or reasoning behind the poem, just as long as the poem moves the reader in a way that is meaningful to the reader him/herself.

How many readers does the poem need to move in order to be counted as successful? What if the poet is completely emotionally detached from the poem but is still able to move the reader deeply? Does the poet put the soul into the poem or does the reader?

The poet is the one who creates the poem and causes its existence, but the reader is the one who fulfills the purpose of the poem (if we are talking about the sort of poem that is written to communicate to an audience other than the poet him/herself). A creation without purpose can still exist, but purpose is what makes the creation alive. By alive, I mean the creation has a real impact on other people’s thoughts, feelings, values, and actions – it has a living effect on the world.

It’s funny how our sense of purpose relies so much on how others receive us. I think many people in American culture (I don’t want to generalize, but it is a trend I’ve noticed when I compare the American culture to other cultures) are often taught to promote self above all else – just “do you,” as long as it makes you happy. But there seems to be more to purpose than just doing what makes you “happy” – somehow our joy isn’t complete until we share it. We need others to help us find our purpose, because if there were no other people, there would be no one who needs us.

I don’t know how to explain how I ended up here..I tend to link everything to large philosophies and my personal knowledge of truth…it’s how I make sense of life, I think.


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