The Puzzle of Poetry

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I’m crying out here for people who really love poetry. I want to know the reasons why you enjoy poetry and, if you like, your favourite poets/poems.

 

You’d think that, after a year and a half of studying Literature at university, by now I would like poetry. But still, I cannot truly say that I do. Although, it’s not so much that I don’t like it, I’ve just never really understood the point of it. These are my two main reasons:

 

1) It seems to me, that by choosing to write a piece of poetry, you are limiting the means by which to express yourself. Poetry just doesn’t allow the freedom that prose does, especially if the poet decides to stick to a common rhyme scheme: it’s a well known fact that the English language lacks the abundant rhymes that other languages have, so why hinder your writing by limiting the vocabulary you can use?

2) The majority of poets I’ve read seem to take delight in deliberately masking the point they are trying to make. To what end? While I acknowledge that poetry and plays in the past have been moderated to prevent blasphemy, heresy and anti-government messages, a great deal of poets, who had no reason to, disguise their true messages under¬†impenetrable linguistic devices and misleading metaphors. Surely if you feel so strongly about an issue you would want to make, and illustrate, your point clearly so that others would be able to appreciate the opinion and form their own around it, especially since poetry is commonly used as a means to publish political and social commentaries.

 

At the moment, I am reading William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, which has begun to change my mind about poetry. Blake uses different perspectives (childhood innocence and adult experience) to describe the same, or similar, scenarios and it is this which has encouraged me to treat his poems as a puzzle.

 

He provides the puzzle pieces in each mirrored poem. He provides the setting, the characters and the event, but different views and opinions about these common features. It is the job of the reader to fit together the opposing perspectives in order to build up a complete understanding of the merits of ‘Innocence’ and ‘Experience’. In essence, the reader is given an image of the puzzle through the similar settings and characters in the opposing poems (the picture on the front of the box, if you will), but in order to finish the puzzle, the reader must figure out a way to connect the different views in order to create the full picture and reveal the message behind the two poems.

 

And, just like a puzzle, the feeling you get when you’ve connected two pieces that fit perfectly together, and enable you to see more clearly the emerging message, is one of delight and revelation that warms the insides and brings a smile to the face.

 

I will, however, always prefer a good novel.

An English student’s golden rule.

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Who is to say what these authors meant

When they wrote their novels, their poems and plays?

The English student is never content

Until everything’s decoded, every word, every phrase.

But why do we do this? We can’t know the author’s mind

The authors would be appalled by the meanings we’ve assigned.

 

It seems we work backwards: we think of points first,

Then we twist words and phrases to mean what we need.

We mould and we bend, we deform and coerce

And words that don’t fit, we dismiss and don’t read.

Look deeply enough and you’ll find some support

For any idea, just remember: distort!

 

 

I don’t like Freud.

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I’m an English student who doesn’t like poetry.

That’s slightly blasphemous, wouldn’t you agree?

I hated poems until I did find

The Earl of Rochester. Oh what a mind!

So much scandal and sex and general debasement

I stared at the page with the utmost amazement!

I’d finally found a poet I liked

So I turned to the criticism while I was still psyched!

 

The criticism was logical, interesting too!

So much useful information, I wasn’t sure what to do!

I wrote and I wrote, absorbing the wisdom

Nothing could stop me, it was really quite awesome.

Then I saw a phrase that brought me to a halt,

A phrase that critics always seem to resort to as default:

‘Freudian analysis’. My most hated theory.

My demeanour at this point was far from cheery.

 

Just because Freud had a thing for his mum

Doesn’t mean we should adopt his rule of thumb.

Every poem, every novel and every play

Is now dissected in a Freudian way.

Critics always seem to find things to support it

Yet little of their logic seems to actually fit.

Not everything leads back to penis envy

Critics: think of something else and stop making me angry!

 

I threw the book of criticism down

Stared at it for a minute, face locked in a frown.

Rochester’s writing is crude and full of sex

But it doesn’t mean that his personality reflects

Freudian theories with tenuous links!

Do critics not care what anyone else thinks?

Not every text needs analysis by Freud

Sometimes it is best to just simply avoid.

 

And yes, it’s ironic that I’ve written in rhyme.

By making my points obvious, I’m emphasising the crime

That most poets commit in hiding what they mean.

See how much easier it is when the point is clearly seen?

How clever is that? I’ve clearly explained TWO things!

How often does that happen in poetic musings?

I’ll admit I’ve never written a poem before

And that explains why this one is so poor.

 

 

Sorry.