Should Poets Explain Their Poetry?

How far (if at all) should a poet explain his (or her) work? I have always been of the view that poets should leave it to the interpretation of readers to determine what their verses mean. To explain all risks treating readers like young children who must be spoon fed. Furthermore, detailed explanations by the poet remove the joy experienced by many lovers of poetry of reaching their own conclusions concerning a poem’s meaning.
Recently, 2 people have expressed the view (on 2 separate occasions in face-to-face conversations) that explanations as regards a poem’s meaning (or what caused me to write it) would be helpful. During the 2 occasions on which I have given poetry readings, I have included a brief explanation concerning the poem’s origins. However I remain of the view that to furnish chapter and verse in respect of a poem’s meaning detracts from the enjoyment of reaching one’s own (often unique) conclusion. One gentleman with whom I discussed the matter suggested that notes could be appended to poems concerning their origin and/or meaning with a caveat that those who wished to come to their own conclusion should skip them. While this is an interesting idea, I don’t want to turn into a didact, I am, after all a poet not a teacher.
As always I would be interested in my reader’s views.


17 thoughts on “Should Poets Explain Their Poetry?

  1. Kunal Thakore

    Short answer: no, Kevin. Unless you as the poet want to ensure you want the reader to take only the one thing you had in mind while writing. Otherwise, I think the beauty of poetry – like art – is that it is open to interpretation.
    Simply my pov, though! Cheers! 😊

  2. The Story Reading Ape

    I think the enjoyment of poetry is a personal thing, like reading stories, looking at artwork, listening to music, etc, so it wouldn’t benefit me to know the why’s, where’s and reasons the poet wrote them Kevin.
    They are to be enjoyed, not put under a microscope 🐵

  3. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

    I do not think poets should explain their poetry. These are poems, not stories. With a story, things need to be explained, but a poem is supposed to be one of those things where the meaning is different depending on the person reading it. That’s why entire classes are dedicated to discussions of possible meanings behind poems.

  4. floridaborne

    Poetry is a group of words expressing concentrated emotion, and emotion is different for each person.

    I have experienced that people see different emotions in the same poem, and people who tell me that the poem doesn’t “speak” to them rarely like my poetry to begin with. There will always be a group of people that will not like your poetry, or understand it.

    Pardon the *shudder* math analogy, but you can’t explain calculus to a person like me; I’m not equipped to understand it. And I’m not going to try to explain poetry to a mathematician who only reads non-fiction. 🙂

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Thank you for your comment. You make an excellent point about poetry being “concentrated emotion” and how the same poem speaks differently to different readers. Kind regards. Kevin

  5. Kev

    If you have to explain it all, Kevin, What’s the point? One may as well write everything in prose!

  6. Josh Wrenn

    I like to let my readers interpret my writing however they want, unless they assume it is about me right then or them or think it gives some insight into things I don’t already publicly.

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Thank you for your comment Josh. I guess, as a writer there is always a danger that someone will misconstrue something you have written. Much poetry is ambiguous so this is, I believe particularly the case as regards that art form. Best. Kevin

  7. Aishwarya

    I often struggle with the same options- to explain or not to! But most of my poetry is in Urdu/Hindi -a language that doesn’t reach most readers of my blog. So I have to resort to translations. However, these translations are done by someone very competitive and one who understands my poetry very well, so with some poetic license of his own, he does the best he can. But that’s the extent I’d go to… I’d not be confusable explaining every word for it takes away the beauty in it!


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