What’s the point of a poem?

A poem has to have a subject. We’ve dealt with that in previous blogs. It might be about your father, a Ferrari, your last stroll in a forest, or an exciting work of art. This choice is informed by your life experience. But your work must also have a meaning above that of its subject.

I say above, because I imagine meanings in stacks layered above the words in your poem. So above “Ferrari” perhaps connotations of: “Red “, or “Wealth”. There may also be “myths”, according to Barthes, which have their signifier, e.g. “an image of a supercar” and signified, e.g. “an expression of a kind of spirituality in modern life”. Be aware how in your work there may be constructions above of many floors of meanings.

A friend may stumble upon meanings, already there, of which you were previously unaware, added by your subconscious. This is like discovering a Roman temple below the lower basement.

Alternatively, someone may read in to it totally different meanings from that intended by you. This is why it’s useful to share your work with others, e.g. in a workshop or writer’s circle.

Sometimes your work leaves the building totally boarded up – “I’ll have to read that again”, a friend might say. It may take them several re-readings to follow the intent or the poem may simply be unintelligible. I believe a good poem should have a message with an easily approachable doorway but then may have other floors full of strange furniture.

Metaphors are your concrete, your building materials. I’ll talk about metaphor in later blogs. With similes you can soar like the Sagrada Familia.

I’ve just read Louis MacNeice’s “The Strand”, an elegy about his deceased father but through the metaphor of waves on the beach it is freighted with higher meanings. So write something that is universal, a warranty against the waning of life. Your message may be aphoristic, political or simply show an understanding of a difficult situation.

When you write, you must feel those meanings and then hope that others will too. You trust that their humanity and their responses are perhaps similar to yours.

A poem is a communion with a yet-to-be-known man or woman, the reader.

It is a beautiful act of giving.



Copyright Clifford Liles, 9th March 2019

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