By Emma Parker
Everytime I flipped through the pages of a poetry book, which I often found at different thrift stores, I would leave very frustrated and confused. As I scanned through each stanza I struggled with figuring out the poet’s exact intention or significance for writing the poem. I thought every poem had to have a “bigger picture” or maybe mirrored an important event in an indirect way. I dreaded the thought of reading poetry not only in school, but in my personal readings because I felt that I couldn’t grasp its full meaning and couldn’t see its beauty that everyone so often talked about.
I have tried to like poetry for the past couple of years. To be honest, the only reason poetry sparked my interest at all is due to the fact that my aunt has a passion for not only reading poetry, but also writing it. She would read her poems or ones that she especially liked out loud and I would attempt to try to interpret the poem’s meaning. Over analyzing each stanza word for word, then trying to see if there were any analogies or hidden meanings, and if I couldn’t break it down even further with the different poetic devices, I was stumped. Never was my own interpretation enough to quench my desire to get the most out of a poem. Poetry felt pointless if it was just left up to my own interpretation. Nevertheless, she would take a breath after she finished the last word and ask me the dreaded question, “What did you think about it?”
My very literal brain despised those words and didn’t see why that was so relevant.
Typically when studying different literary works in the past it didn’t matter what my interpretation was, but instead what the author was trying to convey. Then we would break down the different forms and techniques that were used in the passage. This is what made sense to me when answering questions at the end of the class. It had to be very black and white, there was no room for “my interpretation.” Once again, I could not see the relevance in this question.
I honestly couldn’t see why my aunt was so enthralled by this confounding genre and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I again picked up a random poetry book and gave it another try that all the pieces started to slide into place. I came across a quote in the introduction that really resonated with me, especially considering that I am a musician.
“For the poem’s meaning is forever wedded to its utterance; the form itself expresses the truth of the poem. This is what Archibald McLeish was talking about when he wrote: A poem should not mean/but be. The meaning of a poem, its pattern of sound and our emotional response to these sounds. We don’t demand that the harmonizing of rhythms mean something in music mean anything beyond themselves, although such matters do carry significance for specialists in the field… How we respond to Bach’s precisely iridescent “Brandenburg Concertos” has nothing to do with what we think the music and the composer may be trying to say to us. We don’t ask what music means because music isn’t the way we communicate with one another day after day. We know music is harmonic poetry, that it speaks to us in an extraordinary way, that it will not withstand the bloodless analysis of science. It is, we say, art.”
This quote completely changed my perspective on what poetry is and shed a new light in the subject. Personally, I think I had a bad start with poetry. It was probably a good mixture between school and me being so literal which made it hard for me to understand what poetry itself is. In school I would read a poem and be so consumed with getting the “right” answer and making the grade. In art class we were graded, but it was done in a different way. They allotted room for your skill level and interpretation of what the teachers taught you.
I always felt in my literature class that there was one right answer, which discouraged me from straying away from the “safe” predictable answers instead of giving a genuine analysis from my perspective. I understand that teachers should and will grade as art or music becomes more technical, especially when analyzing a music or art piece. However, when simply listening or observing one should learn to enjoy it. When the author of the quote compared poetry to music It finally clicked and these questions that I was trying to get out of poetry sucked out all of its life and beauty. I realize that it is another form of art and not a lab report. This is also how I developed an appreciation for poetry.
By no means am I now a poetry connoisseur. No matter how many people tried to explain it to me or gave me their favorite poems to read, it wasn’t until I had the desire and an open mind that all the pieces came together. I now have a better foundation of what poetry is and now I can build upon it. I can take it for what it is and enjoy it as an artform.
Emma Parker is my 19-year-old niece who I’ve been attempting to indoctrinate with my ideas of art for years. She’s currently an apprentice leather worker at my brother’s custom boot shop in Houston, Texas. She handmade the tops of the boots below.
Since she wrote this, I’ve been thinking about having other guests share their story as well over the next couple of months.
Here are some of my posts that touch on my own poetic development: