In his book Passing Through-The Later Poems New and Selected by Stanley Kunitz says “Poetry, I have insisted, is ultimately mythology, the telling of the stories of the soul.” I have often said of my poems, that I write stories in the form of poems. I think that it is much the same for every poet. Personally, when I write a poem I do not necessarily have a message that the reader is supposed to “learn” from the reading. I am simply telling a story, with a purpose. The purpose is, more times than not, to get what I am feeling out and onto the paper. Poetry is a much more personal endeavor than writing a short story, or even a novel. The poet must allow the reader into the hidden depths that one would normally keep private and shut away. I have admitted to things in a poem that I would never admit to in conversation. Still, I find at times that the story behind the poem is often missed. While this does not offend me, it does sometimes disappoint. If you have read any of my work, it would not take you long to put together a picture of me. I am a lonely guy who is not sure of his place in this world, nor my value to it. I write poems in an attempt to connect with others in some way. A good example of this would be a recent poem I wrote called Why I Write Poems.
Now that I have a little of the introduction out of the way let us get to the point of this article. The meaning of poems. A few weeks ago I showed a poem of mine to a coworker/friend and asked her to tell me what she thought of it. The poem is I Dreamt of Roses. I ask you to do an exercise and go and read the poem before you continue with this article, to get an idea of what you think it is supposed to mean.
*pausing for you to read the poem*
I am not sure where I heard, or who said this, but I remember hearing/reading this somewhere a long time ago…A person comes into a poem with all of their baggage, experience and memories. They look at a poem through their eyes and not the poets. Whatever meaning a person gets from a particular poem is their meaning. It is no less correct than the meaning any other reader might get. A poem is not a static thing, but lives and breathes and changes depending upon the readers experiences in their own life. Once I learned this I actually started to enjoy writing poems a bit more. I didn’t need to have the reader “get” what I wanted out of the poem. It took some pressure off in a way.
Still… there are times when I wish what I meant to say did get through. In the example of I Dreamt of Roses, I had something that I wanted to get across. The poem was based upon an actual dream I had. The dream, as mine sometimes do, lingered with me for a few days. When I read the poem I can still feel the pain of the dream. The friend I showed the poem to said it was “Cute” (you know, because it has a cat in it).
So, do your poems mean what you think they do? The answer is, of course they do, but they also mean whatever it is they mean to the reader, even if your heart if breaking and they think it is cute.
Leave a comment and talk about some of your experiences. I would love to hear from you.