Tag Archives: the meaning of poetry

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.


Is a poem a thing of art
Carefully crafted in every part?
Or does the poet roughly ssing
Of Cupid’s sting
And pages wet
That he may not forget
His unrequited love?

The heart
Finds expression in art.
Rough hewn or not
The poet has got
To find a voice.
He has no choice
Other than to obtain a brief
From grief
In the words he doth weave.

Pretty Girls Are Gravestones By Amber Skye Forbes

Amber Skye Forbes has written a powerful poem entitled “Pretty Girls Are Gravestones”, (https://amberskyeforbes.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/poetry-saturday-pretty-girls-are-gravestones/). In her poem Amber attacks the objectification of “pretty girls” by men. I found Amber’s use of the ornament analogy striking, (girls are placed in cabinets for men to admire).

I was struck by the poet’s use of the word “vile” to describe men. This led me to ask the writer whether she did, in fact hold that all men are “vile”. Amber responded as follows,

“I don’t feel that way at all about men in general, although this poem was written due to my personal trauma. I hope the men who read this don’t see it as

an attack on them, but they are able to come to their own conclusions about what I could mean. I know what I mean, but it doesn’t matter what I mean. What

matters is others’ interpretations of what I mean. So it’s deliberate that I make it seem like it’s all men. Yet, the true beauty of poetry lies in its

pleasures and usefulness readers glean from it”.

I agree absolutely with Amber. What matters ultimately is not what the poet meant but how readers themselves construe their work. Once a poem or, indeed any composition is available either online and/or in print it is beyond the control of it’s creator and is subject to whatever interpretation readers choose to put upon it. (I made the same point as Amber in my guest post for The Story Reading Ape’s Blog which can be found here, (http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2015/02/01/read-about-author-kevin-morris-explaining-his-poetry/).