We’re taking a brief sojourn back into DWG Land with this one, because I often forget what poetry is and what it can and has to be, even as I’m writing it. I grew up loving complex patterns and rhyme schemes in my poetry, thanks in no small part to those Elizabethan-era sonnets and intricate poems like “The Walrus and the Carpenter” and some of Shel Silverstein’s stuff. As such, I’ve always tried to cram as much into my poems as possible. I often hide little easter eggs and secret meanings in plain site; usually they don’t affect the greater meaning or reading of the poem, but I enjoy knowing that they’re there.
This idea that there even has to be a greater meaning to a poem is one that I should question more often, though. I don’t very frequently allow myself to write poems that are strictly imagistic or single scenes without some kind of theme or leaning. I try to hard to force something into my poems, some kind of message or thought or, I don’t know, lesson for the world. Which is dumb: what do I know? Who am I to be imparting alleged wisdom in my 14 lines?
Poetry is about discovery, both within and without. Through poetry, I discover what’s possible given the confines of the English language. I’m able to tinker with this complex communication tool that I’ve been taught, to stretch it and mold it and investigate it and really see what it’s capable of visually, emotionally, sonically, and intellectually. But poetry also helps me discover things about myself and communicate ideas and emotions that may not be fully formed within me, yet. If I’m writing about a certain topic, determined to get a particular view down on paper, but am struggling to find conviction to place behind my words, then maybe I’m not as convinced about my stance on that topic as I thought. Maybe I feel a completely different way altogether. Or maybe I don’t know how I feel at all about something, and writing about it specifically helps me to figure that out. Either way, I tend to write with purpose; I have a conscious objective guiding my words.
That shouldn’t be the case as much as it is for me. Poetry can be almost anything, and some of the best poems are those that don’t force the reader into any narrow interpretation at all. That’s one of the reasons why I chose the poem that I did today. On the surface, it’s a very simple image poem, a single scene from nature, potential energy turning into kinetic energy. Because the poet isn’t corralling the reader into any specific interpretation, though, isn’t trying to communicate a narrow range of ideas, the poem is more accessible. We’re able to take away whatever we want from the poem and our thoughts are still valid. The poet has thus communicated with the maximum number of readers. I need to do that more in my own writing.
The Eagle by Alfred, Lord Tennyson