Tag Archives: how to interpret a poem

How Should Poets Explain Their Poetry?

How should poets explain their poetry?

The above question came into sharp focus for me yesterday evening. I was out in a pub with my friend Brian when we fell into conversation with a couple. During our chat, the subject of poetry came up and I passed a copy of my book “Leaving and Other Poems” to the gentleman and his girlfriend.

Having leafed through Leaving, the gentleman asked me the meaning of my poem “Circular”:

“A circular seat
Encompassing a tree.
Age will defeat
Thee and me”.

In retrospect, I ought to have asked the gentleman for his interpretation of the poem prior to giving my own take on it. However, I did not. Rather, I admitted to not having a complete answer to his question. I went on to say that poems sometimes pop into a poet’s head and are written down without the author being fully aware of the meaning of his own work.

The above brief poem came to me whilst sitting with family on a circular bench in the environs of Woolton Wood (woodland in the village of Woolton in Liverpool). The circular seat reminded me of life, death and rebirth, and it’s circularity also brought to mind eternity.

I explained (somewhat haltingly) my interpretation to my companions, and the gentleman commented that his interpretation accorded with mine.

Despite my explanation of my own poem, I remain of the view that others may interpret it differently. What the poet writes is not (as I say above) always cut and dried in his own mind. The words are there in black and white. He may, at the time of composition, be sure that he knows exactly what he means. But, even after polishing and final publication, his poem remains a living force, open to various interpretations. The poet has lost control over his offspring (if indeed he ever had control in the first place).

As always, I would be interested in the views of you my readers.

(You can find “circular” in “Leaving and Other Poems”, which is available in Kindle and paperback here https://www.amazon.com/Leaving-other-poems-Kevin-Morris/dp/B09R3HR9KG/).

Should Poets Write to be Understood?

Recently, an acquaintance related how her father had given her, and other members of his family a book of poetry he had written. The result? None of the recipients of his gift understood his work.

My acquaintance argues that poets ought to compose poetry their readers are able to comprehend, rather than using obscure metaphors and references to mythology which comparatively few people can understand.

Whilst I agree that poets should not be deliberately obscure, I am of the view that the first duty of a poet is to be true to themselves. It is, undoubtedly odd for poets to deliberately compose obscure poetry (and I am sceptical that many do so). However the fact that a poem or series of poems is difficult to interpret does not imply that the poet deliberately made them so.

One can not converse with the dead. But where one to have this privilege, and where one to be able to ask T. S. Eliot about The Wasteland (which many struggle to interpret), he would, I suspect say that his readers should make an effort to understand his poetry, and that he had to write the poem as he did.

I have not met the father of my acquaintance. But I am in no doubt that he put his heart and soul into his work, and that I for one would feel impertinent where I to say “sir, I don’t understand your work, you should have made it mor comprehensible”.

Seemingly simple poems can be open to interpretation. In my Selected Poems is one entitled Raining. I awoke one morning and, hearing the rain was reminded of mortality. I will die but the rain will continue as it always has.

A reader interpreted the reference to rain as implying sadness and, in particular tears. In fact I love the rain and my poem flowed from a feeling of contentment on my part. We all die but there is continuity and beauty in the eternal rain, and the knowledge of this fills me with joy rather than sorrow.

Ultimately poets must remain true to themselves and not sacrifice their art merely to bough down to the lowest common denominator. I hope that people understand what I write, but I will not change the manner in which I compose my poetry to enhance the understanding of my readers.

As always, I would welcome comments.

When A Poet Whose Name Is Power

When a poet whose name is Power
Composed a poem entitled The Flower,
Some thought it was about a girl
And others that it concerned a pearl,
But it was simply about a flower!