on abstraction

I hadn’t truly thought about the extent of how abstract poems can be before my workshop. To me, what happened in my poem was clear, but I was also the one experiencing it. Metaphorically, I tried taking my story and shattering it, only using a handful of shards to put it back together. In hindsight I don’t really know if that’s an effective way to share unique experiences, because not everyone can grasp onto some of the concepts being expressed. That’s not the fault of the reader, but the writer. So to what extent can you alter the deliverance of a story before you change the story told altogether?

Word choice certainly has something to do with it. Upon discussing topics that hit “closer to home” for me, I found that I was tempted to hide behind suggestive and cryptic wording so as to make it less explicit and more suggestive. But, I found this is not particularly helpful when attempting to make feelings public. For example, if a poem like mine is meant to express an emotional disconnect or type of anxiety, there’s a point to which the poem becomes too fragmented or impossible to understand. My solution to this in my further writings and drafts of my poem is to expose more about the story and my explicit feelings. In the case of a poem that starts off abstract because it uses fewer words (like the Williams poem, XXII), it makes more sense to carry that out consistently throughout the poem. Maybe this would avoid confusion that would come with a poem that exposes some details, but not all. Lastly, I think going back and reflecting on my poem has caused me to think of what makes a poem understandable, and why and how one would choose to allude to some details, and not others. It’s definitely something to consider, and I will continue to dwell on the correct answer because I don’t think I’ve found it yet. 🙂

2 Replies to “on abstraction”

  1. I believe that all poems can be considered abstract in some way or another; however, there is most definitely a fine balance between being crystal clear and too abstract. Finding this elusive sweet spot that yields just the right amount of details while still “showing and not telling” is something that I find myself struggling with, as well.
    It is true that a period of reflection is incredibly helpful when determining whether or not a poem is too abstract or not. Not just waiting mere days, but weeks, or even months can be extremely beneficial to the poem upon revision. Changing your mindset while looking over your poem after a length of time is also quite helpful. I agree that sometimes you must remind yourself to step back from your poem and view it through the lens of an uninformed reader, someone who does not know you or might not relate to the poem’s content as much. If you are able to decipher it while standing in another person’s shoes, then you can reassure yourself that you have managed to find the sweet spot of abstraction in your poem.

  2. I also have had the same dilemma when writing poems. I think when writing poems I want to explain everything and make sure nothing is too abstract. I’m worry that otherwise, the reader will be confused, and the poem just won’t make sense. But when I do this, sometimes the poem gets boring, and there isn’t enough mystery in the poem. I explain things too well and don’t pay attention to the things that would actually make the poem better. Or I cut out lines that I find really interesting, but think are confusing. Because of all this, now I think it can be good to let a poem be abstract. It’s fine to let the reader figure it out and draw their own conclusions.

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