Tag Archives: understanding poetry

Should Poets Explain their Poetry?

Last Friday (5 February) I gave an online reading, using Microsoft Teams to work colleagues.

During my performance I read from my recently released collection Leaving and Other Poems. Having read my poem Blackbird, I explained the context in which it had been composed.

Having finished my brief explanation, a colleague commented that knowing something about the context of the poem, it’s meaning Etc was helpful. I responded that whilst I appreciated her thoughts and, I am, on occasions happy to provide context, I was wary of taking away from my readers own perspectives on my poetry by putting my interpretation on my work.

Part of the beauty of poetry is that the reader can interpret a poem in diverse (and often very different ways). I am often surprised at how my readers interpret my work and sometimes find their interpretations rather bizarre. However, in many other instances I comprehend why they interpret a particular poem as they do and this has sometimes caused me to see new meanings in my own work.

I am planning a reading from Leaving and Other Poems in a local library in the near future. Doubtless I will talk about what inspired me to write a given poem. However, if I am asked what a particular poem means I shall politely respond that I would be interested to hear the questioners own interpretation prior to (possibly) providing my own perspective.

As always I would be interested in your comments. How do my fellow poets feel about explaining their poetry? Also, if you are not a poet but enjoy reading poetry, do you find a poets explanations helpful or do they take away from your enjoyment of their work?

You can find Leaving and Other Poems in paperback and Kindle on Amazon here https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R3HR9KG/ (for the UK), and here, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09R3HR9KG/
(for the US and elsewhere).

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.

Should I Explain?

Should I explain
Or leave those who gather the grain
To glean
What I mean?

I am no expert
But hope my words divert
And cause readers to think
As they from poetry’s fountain drink.