As poetry blogger I am keen to get feedback from readers. When you print poems in the traditional way and send them out to the world of print you don’t expect instant feedback. The lay-out and structure of a blog seems to request a response in the way of ratings and comments from the reader.
Since I started to blog my friends have responded in different ways. One intends to print the poems out so that they may be ‘read properly’ – I’m not, as a digital immigrant, totally out of sympathy with that. Reading for 20c people is still about physical paper and words on pages.
A confident few get in there and comment, aware that I will do the same. Some don’t know what to say. They would comment but don’t want to appear superficial. They feel they don’t have appropriate vocabulary to make meaningful comments. One put it to me this way. ”Seeing word expertise makes you feel like a word amateur. You don’t have to respond to a great painting by producing a painting or to a piece of music by composing another one.” Responding on the blog, on the other hand, does require one to use the same medium as the work i.e. writing. So what could you write about that would make sense.
Here are a few ideas I have considered when thinking about how one might respond to poetry and which the reader of poetry blogs may find useful.
Things to write about
1 What is the writer trying to do?
A good starting point for examining a poem is to consider what the writer is trying to achieve in writing it. Even if you initially don’t like a work, using this framework allows you to give it a fair assessment. (For example: I usually don’t respond well to the kind of poems that are written to celebrate big state occasions (‘occasional poems’) but I can see why they are produced and I can evaluate them and make a judgment about which are more successful than others.) There are many reasons for writing poetry but the most compelling and the one which is likely to be there alongside any other purposes is the need to explore ones own feelings.
‘One writes in order to feel’
Muriel Rukeyser, ‘The Life Of Poetry’ 1949
2. A good poem is like a puzzle, it is something to savour and solve.
Even when it appears simple there may be hidden elements, alternative explanations and possibilities about which even the writer may be unaware. For me, most of the fun of reading a poem is the effort to make sense of it. (As High School English teacher I found introducing young people to this idea was very rewarding.) If understanding a poem is like trying to solve a puzzle you won’t expect to ‘get it’ instantly; you will expect to read it more than once and do that in a reflective way.
3. A good poem works on the feelings of the reader.
These may be clear and obvious, but often they are oblique, confusing or multi-layered. Exploring these feelings and writing about them is valid way of writing about a poem. Your own response as a reader is important…what are the feelings you get when you read it.
4. A good poem has a shape and structure.
Some forms of poetry use very strict forms and patterns of rhyme and rhythm. (An obvious but useful paradigm would be the limerick with its strict pattern of rhymes and rhythms –
Dee daddle dee daddle dee da,
Dee daddle dee daddle dee da
Dee daddle dee dit
Dee daddle dee dit
Dee daddle de daddle dee da.)
In my own work I have noticed a tendency to use more formal structures when I am writing more humorously and to less formal when I am writing about more serious matters. Having a look at how the writer sets out the poem out is a good way of understanding the poem. You can refer to a whole range of building blocks such as rhythm, line length, use of rhyme, shape, verse length, punctuation, and regularity of structure when considering this.
5. Good poems use language in an interesting way.
Considering why the poet chooses particular words can help you get an insight into the poet’s thinking. Commenting on the poet’s choice of words would be a useful way of responding to the poem. Poets love inventing words or shifting their purpose. (This is a good example: In writing his poem Paradise Lost John Milton was looking for a noun for Satan’s sidekicks at work in his infernal capital. He couldn’t find one so he invented the magnificent ‘pandemonium’ a much-loved word in our family and still widely used in ordinary discourse.)
6. Your own personal response
In making comments on the blog your own personal response is very important too. Even when read to groups or performed to music poetry is essentially a one-to-one communication between the poet and an individual reader.
Don R Cole