What does it mean to understand a poem, to glimpse a little of what the poet intended, to know that you (the reader) and poet share common ground, to understand something of oneself not previously known to self through the poem. It means those things and more – the list is surely endless and multidimensional.
Today the closed FB group who are writing a poem a week to a prompt by the inspiring Jo Bell have delved into the somewhat murky and contested waters of poetry and understanding. Some hard words have been exchanged. You can probably guess a few. Someone said ‘give us a clue who you are on about’ to which part of the reply was ‘If you don't get someone's poem, that's a shame’ (anon quotes, used with thanks).
My immediate response to this is to suggest a need to acknowledge the complex nature of understanding that I allude to above. And also to ask if being a poet and publishing poems involves recognising how this operated within each of our poems.
This week the 52FB group has been posting poems about famous dead people. Some of these had wonderful slow reveals, others gave the name upfront and obvious (title, footnote etc.) and some omitted the name of the person. In these poems (no name) I was often puzzled.
Now, there are so many poems to read on the FB page (yes, its hugely popular, and rightly so) I skipped some poems where I felt I needed to solve the riddle of who before I could challenge myself with the poem’s other meanings. I probably missed a gem, a poem to challenge me, to give my some new insights, even, dare I say, one I didn’t completely understand but left me ready to re-read and seek more understanding. This seems a great shame … surely poetry is published (or in the case of the FB group, posted) to be shared with compassion, with an understanding that not everyone knows what we know, with the hope that a greater commonality follows the sharing.
I’m just back from the Hay Festival, from being at poetry events with family members who read and listen but don’t write poetry. It was great to hear in their praise of certain poems elements of understanding of the poet’s experiences and feelings. These were poems written knowing that there will be a reader who is ‘other’ than the poet. Poems that felt inclusive, maybe not wholly but sufficiently. Poems that put complexity and accessibility on the scales with thoughtfulness.
Well, that’s what I am going to try for. What do you think?