Resigned to Accepting Poetry as a Useful Art Form
As an adult, I often feel indifferent toward poetry. Of course, when I was a teenager I used to write poems about unrequited love, how stifled I felt by my parent’s rules and unrequited love. In college I was forced to read a ton of poetry and interpret what the author was trying to convey—aside from the obvious. (Note for next career: Become famous by writing poetry about being forced to write about poetry.)
It was never enough to just enjoy the beauty of the words. You were always required to come up with some prose that spoke to the deep, thought-provoking message the poet was illustrating. Maybe the poet didn't have some underlying meaning. Maybe the flower garden was just blooming and beautiful that day.
Unless the poet themselves wrote about their own poem to explain the poetry to readers , then how the heck do we know what the poet was really saying, if anything at all? Some poetry professors will try to convince you the structure of the poem— iambic pentameter, haiku, cinquain, acrostic, etc., says as much about the poet’s message as the words. They are full of s#*@. I will prove it to you:
Steaming, swirling, reflecting
A soothing, liquid remedy
Just because I wrote the poem in this form doesn't mean I have anything else to say other than I like tea and it’s soothing. I am not speaking of something metaphysical or a spiritual awakening I have experienced.
Just as we sometimes interpret our partner’s sighs to mean they have a deep, dark secret they aren't telling us (wait, is that only me?), everyone interprets poetry differently. I believe we interpret it based on what we need to hear at the time, or based on a past experience. We project our emotion on the poet so we have some company in our misery, happiness or anxiety. This doesn't mean what we are seeing in the poem, is what the poet intended.
I write all this because I have recently changed my feelings about poetry and how it is interpreted by the reader. I recently came across a column, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, by H. William Rice
. The author writes about how Robert Frost’s iconic poem,Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,
helped him to understand his father better.
I feel confident I will no longer associate poetry with boring high school English classes, smarmy-looking college professors or rooms full of eager-to-please, artsy co-eds. I am more tolerant of poetry and how it can affect a reader—whether or not they are correctly interpreting the poet’s message.
This change of heart doesn't mean I am running to the library to check out a dozen collections of poetry. I am just saying I now appreciate how poetry can be cathartic—both in reading and writing.