Interaction between text and reader

One of the things I’ve started thinking about for my work here is the structure of poems- not the placement of words on a page, but how the reader interacts with the poem itself and how the poem informs the reader. Kyle’s pieces on metacognition got me thinking of the poem as a one-sided communication- you read a poem- it speaks to you, but you cannot speak back. It elicits a response in you, it may change you, but the poem itself does not change. It is static, it is the same no matter the circumstance, context, interpretation or reaction. You cannot change the poem, like you could change someone’s mind in conversation.

Our in-class prompt asking who the audience of our poems are brought me back to that thought- I write poems for me, not for an audience, but as self-reflection, to process, to preserve fleeting snippets in text. But these poems are not for me, they’re for the workshop. So how do they need to change to speak to an audience? Poems can absolutely be for myself alone, but I want to try push the form to it’s maximum potential- to take the reader into account. Taking this kind of structure- the relationship between the text and the reader- how could the content of the text could reflect that structure? If my poems are static but inform the reader, what kind of form would best make use of that structure to amplify it’s meaning? Could a poem be something like an instruction manual, a map, a recipe?

I want to avoid nostalgia for this same reason- nostalgia itself is difficult to capture in any medium, and it’s specific only to the poet/narrator/individual. Even if I were able to convey the beauty of whatever I was nostalgic for, the elements of that nostalgia would be so specific to me that any reader wouldn’t be able to relate. I feel like I need to make my pieces universal at their core.

2 Replies to “Interaction between text and reader”

  1. I’m wondering whether it’s possible for the poem both to be self-reflection for you and something, including the witnessed act or aftermath of self-reflection, for the reader. In other words, is it that the writing of the poem needs to change, or the possibilities that might emerge from revision?

    Paul Valery saw the poem as a “prolonged hesitation between sound and sense” and, elsewhere, as “never finished, only abandoned to its reader.” Put the two together, and you get the sense that the poem is always still making its meaning as it travels to the reader and perhaps, at times, back to the poet, or at least between readers.

    Sometimes, poets have addressed this by moving to uses of the reader in the poem, whether the explicit “Dear Reader” or the “you” that is a reader. (Or even the I as surrogate reader, though that’s a little different.) But I like your point that there’s something structural here to address – not formal but structural.

    The anthology Lyric Postmodernisms might be worth your reading – not just the poems, but the poetic statements the poets offer on those poems. Whether or not you agree with them (and some I think you will) or value the poems, they’ll offer other ways to approach this question.

  2. A phenomenal essay that I encourage you to read is Wolfgang Iser’s “A phenomenological approach to reading” (adjectival pun intended). The notion that there is a text that all readers bring to any text, and the intermingling of these two, is a fascinating perspective on creativity. Walking the line between individual and communal is difficult but I think that the sense of it ay grow as time progresses and your craft develops. Keep writing! I’m glad my poems can make you think and know that the feedback is a two-way street!

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