What Poems Ask of Us

One of the things that struck me this past week was our analysis of There but for fortune. I noticed that the poem itself was incredibly straightforward and blunt, but our analysis assumed that the poem was a multi-faceted metaphor, with layers of symbolism and multiple different meanings. There but fortune is different from the most of the poems we’ve looked at in the past- it tells events just as they happened, with little room for conjecture. 

That’s not surprising, our training as readers has always been to look for the deeper meaning. We have been taught to vivisect text under a microscope and pluck out what’s there. We expect everything to be a mystery wrapped in an enigma, unraveling layers of surrealist metaphors, and that’s justified, all the poems we’ve read have done that with few exceptions. Our poems have always asked us to solve them like puzzles. So I’m not surprised when we would confabulate when faced with something so straightforward, so blunt, so immediate transparent and bare, our only reaction can be “What am I missing here? What does it mean, and why can’t I see it?” 

Of course, none of the interpretations are wrong. There is zero objectivity in poetry. Sometimes, a poem is just asking us to bear witness to an event, an emotion, to glimpse something we have never experienced.

One Reply to “What Poems Ask of Us”

  1. Nick,

    I wouldn’t necessarily call Noah’s poem “straightforward.” I think his writing itself is pretty straightforward. Sure. But his poems work on a number of levels. In this particular poem, the format forces a parallel, asking us to consider the kind of overwhelming probability which dictates our lives.

    In one timeline, the boy walks out. In the other, the boy will not walk again. In both, the fundamental action is similar — they are both falling.

    Perhaps, this goes back to that idea of “finding your reader.” Certain readers are going to understand your work more intuitively than others. Similarly, in life, some people just happen to think the way we do.

    This is one of the things I struggle with in poetry — trying to reach out to the people who don’t understand my motives implicitly. As last class proved to us, the gap exists. Now, the question is this: How do we bridge it?


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