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  1. #21
    Member spiderfrommars's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt.Is.God View Post
    I think that if you get that out of a meaning the author didn't intend, then fine. But I do think whatever the author intended most often provides the most cohesion and beauty to the work. And I think building a poem around a definite and intentional theme is the best way to approach it, even if you don't quite understand the theme yourself.
    Yeah, I think I was very dramatic in my statement. I actually do think works should have a definite theme– but not a definite interpretation. I have a poem which one person thinks it's about the American Civil War, and another thinks is about a person being betrayed by a close friend. What those interpretations have in common is the feeling of loss and abandonment, and of a sudden change that effects the outlook of the speaker permanently. So they're different interpretations, but they're not random, either. I think my original post implied that I was down with randomness, and I'm not, really. I just think the author's original intention is often vague, whereas the idea of a correct interpretation would suggest it's specific. That's not the case for me, and it doesn't seem to be the case for a lot of people I know.

    I might be too vague in my intentions, perhaps to my detriment. It certainly makes me a poor fiction writer. (I don't write fiction seriously, but I do it frequently.)

    Also, your signature cracks me up.

  2. #22
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
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    Poetry does nothing.

  3. #23
    Senior Member Kurt.Is.God's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spiderfrommars View Post
    I just think the author's original intention is often vague, whereas the idea of a correct interpretation would suggest it's specific. That's not the case for me, and it doesn't seem to be the case for a lot of people I know.
    Exactly! When I write, I'm heading toward a general "theme" or "atmosphere", and when I go over it in my head I realize that the writing can stand in for many things that also fit the theme. Does that make sense? It's hard to explain... Your poem which could be about the Civil War or abandonment, for example, probably deals with something which both the Civil War and abandonment have in common.

  4. #24
    Member spiderfrommars's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt.Is.God View Post
    Exactly! When I write, I'm heading toward a general "theme" or "atmosphere", and when I go over it in my head I realize that the writing can stand in for many things that also fit the theme. Does that make sense? It's hard to explain... Your poem which could be about the Civil War or abandonment, for example, probably deals with something which both the Civil War and abandonment have in common.
    Yeah! That's what I'm getting at. Atmosphere is a good word for what I'm usually aiming at. And there would be interpretations that would make no sense, like if someone said that poem was about Obama's '08 campaign. But there are many interpretations that make sense that I would never have thought of.

  5. #25
    Member spiderfrommars's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Victor View Post
    Poetry does nothing.
    As opposed to other forms of art? Or are you talking more about art generally? And what do you mean by "does nothing"?

  6. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clownmaster View Post
    I always suspected as much.

    I had an English teacher in 10th grade who ruined "lord of the flies" forever for me. We spent 4 months on it... Complete with a mock trial of the characters... I immediately volunteered to be a jury member but she saw through my ruse and put me down as a lawyer. Sigh.

  7. #27
    Emerging Tallulah's Avatar
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    I'm teaching poetry in my composition class right now, and I basically teach my students this:

    --Any literature is a combination of meaning, intention and interpretation. It's a shared experience between the creator and the reader. So even if Sylvia Plath could resurrect and tell you exactly what she was thinking at the time, it doesn't mean that you cannot find other meanings in it. If studying literature was a big game of "find the author's sole intent," literary critics would be out of a job, and literature would be a good sight more boring to study.

    --But it is our "duty," for lack of a better word, to look for the clues the poet has left. A poet's words are everything; they are his/her toolbox and mode of expression, and a poet isn't going to say "eh, close enough" when searching for the right word to convey meaning and intent. So we need to figure out the connotations of words, be aware of allusions and references (something my young students struggle with), glean intent from sounds, from meter, from rhyme, from hyperbole and onomatopoeia, and every other thing the poet has used to create that idea/feeling/social commentary.

    --I do end up telling them a lot of what is in a poem, simply because they're new at this and they have less exposure to the vocabulary and references that I do, and they have limited practice with interpreting poetry. But I have always stressed to them that they can have any interpretation that they are able to support with the text. It doesn't have to be mine. But there has to be a basis for their particular reading in the poem itself.

    --I run into several students that I think must have been me in high school. I didn't know anything about interpreting literature, and had a hard time trusting that the author actually intended all that deep meaning. It seemed like my teachers were just making a big deal out of a story/poem. With a lot more practice and exposure, I've developed an appreciation of literature and criticism, and can find meaning where there was none before. I was just taking things far too literally, and cheating myself out of the richness of the experience.

    --You can trust the stuff that's in the literary canon, for the most part. It will stand up to scrutiny. But there's also a lot of bad writing out there, so don't let anyone fool you into thinking that just because it rhymes that it's poetry.
    Something Witty

  8. #28
    FRACTALICIOUS phobik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clownmaster View Post
    To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.
    ~ Elbert Hubbard

    Music provides one of the clearest examples of a much deeper relation between mathematics and human experience.

  9. #29
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    Dead Poets

    Quote Originally Posted by spiderfrommars View Post
    As opposed to other forms of art? Or are you talking more about art generally? And what do you mean by "does nothing"?
    One of our greatest poets, W.H.Auden, told us that, "Poetry does nothing". And it was he who revealed the secret at the dead heart of poetry.

    Most instinctively dislike poetry and always ask plaintively, "'But what does it mean?".

  10. #30
    Lay the coin on my tongue SilkRoad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Victor View Post
    One of our greatest poets, W.H.Auden, told us that, "Poetry does nothing". And it was he who revealed the secret at the dead heart of poetry.

    Most instinctively dislike poetry and always ask plaintively, "'But what does it mean?".
    “The poem comes in the form of a blessing—‘like rapture breaking on the mind,’ as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.” -Stanley Kunitz, former US Poet Laureate

    "Poetry is a sort of homecoming" -Paul Celan (one of the greatest poets of...everything, but particularly known for Holocaust poetry)


    I can't help feeling sorry for those who are too lazy or uninterested to come up with anything but the "but what does it mean" cop-out. I am not joking when I say that to me, poetry is the most potentially meaningful art form there is. At its best, it is illuminating, truthful and precise like nothing else.

    Poets have been persecuted in countries with restrictive regimes and continue to have this experience. They often represent the people in difficult times. In such places, poetry is anything but meaningless.
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