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Poetry Interpretation Guide

April 5, 2012

Hello!  I was discussing this site with my father and he noted that my poetry is rather….odd.  It’s not always easily understandable in any case.  Part of the reason for this is most of the poetry on here is the first draft of it, the point being to just keep me writing.  However, I think I’m at the stage where it is more important to write and revise and post high quality pieces.  This means posts won’t be as often, but the posts should be of higher quality/accessibility.

In the meantime, I thought I would post this guide for interpretation of the poems already posted on this site.  Some of these pointers work for other poetry too.  Please note that these are just my thoughts on the topic and I’m by no means an expert on interpretation.  Plus, poems are so fluid that saying “poetry should do this, poetry should do that” is kind of sacrilege…….

  1. First, poetry is not always easily understandable nor meant to be easy.  You’re going to have to exercise your brain cells if you want to get a deeper meaning.  Modern poetry has this trend of, instead of being more narrative-esque like in past centuries’ poetic endeavors, to rather be a string of images.  There is usually a connection between the images, a theme explored, a feeling realized.  Much spoken word poetry is like this.  Nevertheless, while the explicit rationality or “message” (if there is any) may be only revealed if you do an extended analysis on the written text, the audience should feel something and/or have a sense of vivid image.  Unless the poet is aiming for it, total confusion is not supposed to happen.  Even the most superficial of readings should leave some impression on the reader.
  2. There’s always the side of poetic interpretation taught in school.  Note any poetic devices.  How the words sound, the movements your mouth makes in their formation, can also add meaning.  Diction (words used), imagery, puns/wordplay, alliteration, enjambment (where the lines end), allusion, repetition, metaphor, simile, personification, and syntax (placement of words) are pretty typical in my work and others.  In addition, some poems are in a certain strict form like pantoum or villanelle.
  3. My work on here is not very…solid.  Someone once described them as “written feelings,” which I think is a very apt description.  They don’t take place in a physical space or usually follow a typical narrative.  The “all my poems are love songs to you” series is a great example of this.  The word-eating monster poems are more narrative-esque because the monster is a recurring character.
  4. If you know my biography, then forget it.   Many, many, MANY of the poems are NOT biographical or a record of an actual life event.  I am not suicidally depressed, about to commit arson, victim of unrequited love, actually in love with someone, have lost love, drowning, spontaneously combusting, John Watson/his answering machine, dead, friends with someone in a coma, or anything else you can think of going on in the poems.  I read a lot.  I feel a lot.  I imagine what the characters feel or exaggerate my own small feelings.  This might explain why some of the poems don’t “sound like me.” I also sometimes attempt to take on a male voice/perspective for giggles, so watch out for that. Of course some things are definitely me because I can’t be objective and my worldview will of course bleed in.  But I’m personally not…..exploding.
  5. With any writing, what the author intends and means in the work is not necessarily important, possible to determine, or existing.  What the audience ascribes to it is important too and sometimes more lasting.  What you personally get out of the poem is as important as what I was intending to say like 80% of the time (the remaining 20% for when I really want only one interpretation to be read).  I purposefully don’t interpret my own poems on this blog because I want to encourage you to find your own meaning.  For example, Ray Bradbury intended for Fahrenheit 451 as a entreaty against technology, but everyone thinks that it is a powerful entreaty against government censorship.  It is used as such in pop culture and English essays everywhere as a cultural symbol against censorship.  That’s important.  Meanwhile, no one has definitely decided what Alice in Wonderland is about (besides the actual plot).  Lewis Carroll was an Oxford math professor and the most plausible sounding interpretation I’ve heard is that he is making fun of theoretical mathematics and/or English society.  In this case, author interpretation is practically unknowable (though most likely exists), but it’s a good story all the same and varying audience interpretation is possible.  That’s lovely.  Other times the author just kind of word-vomits something good and doesn’t really know what they’re doing either.  Some authors purposefully make things meaningless.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge got high as a kite on opium, fell asleep, had a drug dream, woke up, and wrote down his dream in poetic form.  That is why his poem “Kubla Khan” has zero logic/makes no sense whatsoever. So sometimes when you think the poet is on drugs, they actually are.  I don’t do drugs, for the record.  For these cases, interpretation either on the author or audience’s part is nigh impossible: it’s meaningless and often focused on the pretty imagery.
  6. That being said, if you’re really confused, you can ask me.  I’m alive and contact-able through the comments section, unlike many poets and authors who are dead and therefore very difficult to ask what they mean.  I’d be happy to tell you what I am trying to say, if I’m saying anything at all.
  7. Again, a majority of these poems are not finished pieces.  It’s a process.

Yeps!  If you have any questions, criticisms, concerns, advice etc, please feel free to leave a comment!

  1. Taylor Cannon permalink

    Time is a funny friend, comes and goes again…
    We know, or think we do…
    Words, meaning, reality…is that still a posiblity in the place we reside through time?

    A radio show to inspire; a thought of family, struggle, place….becoming…process unite!
    Your words stick out cuz, “more important to write and revise and post high quality pieces.”
    Write indeed, to progress the need…to form the form and realse outward.
    I think they are all high quality peices, separated only by the inside desire to be. The critique.

    Anyways…I dig your writing Natalie and see how you are becoming focused in your voice, prose, and style…it looks awesome and I think you are correct about the timing to take it to the next level.

    You can always edit, massage, adjust, cut, and add along the way; I call that the process.

    Peace and Love,


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