On Poetry (part 9,847,715,235.1)


My friend Tom Abbott gives me much cause to rethink old thoughts about poetry and to examine them closely. Commenting on his blog, which today features the wonderful "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost, I had this to say of it.

So--surely what you read here seems valid, [a poem about death and eternity] but I would point you toward other indications in the poem--indications of something hidden--"Whose woods these are I think I know, his house is in the village though; he will not see me stopping here. . ." why is this important? (By the way, it isn't as though I have some secret answer you have to guess, I'm just asking you why in your schema or understanding this might be important.)

Another indication is at the end of the poem, "The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and mmiles to go before I sleep. . ." A suggestion of a desire to abandon all for an unseen something--a possible recommitment.

Work with some of those suggestive ambiguities and add it to what you already have--you'll find all sorts of new things springing out of a familiar work.

Poetry works on productive ambiguity, it gives rise to great meaning through little things. Watch the little signposts of the words and be prepared to account for each one. For poetry, like the cautious Christian is ultimately called to account for every word.

End original post and now this addendum. And that is why the PoMo and the deliberately vague commit such a sin against the art. Poetry is the most tightly packed of all the literary arts. It is called upon to attain a precision and concision not demanded of any other written art form. Think about it--it's difficult to write a coherent, deeply meaningful sentence of only seventeen syllables, and yet there are entire schools of poetry devoted to this very compact poetic form. In poetry there is no room for fat everything is lean, lithe, and has the tensile strength of carbon monofilament. And so, when it does not. . . let's just say, I am disappointed, the artist has done less than what is called for.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 4, 2002 7:10 PM.

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