A New Respect For Poetry
Poetry is one of the things I knew I would study in my English class, and I had been dreading it all semester. Before now, I didn’t really understand or appreciate poetry. I guess my issue with it before was that I felt like authors should just state what they mean. Poetry is often so short that so much is left up to interpretation. More often that not, I was confused after reading a piece of poetry, but I think that’s because I didn’t know how to read it. My English instructor simplified it in a way no other teacher had ever done for me, and going through her model, I have been able to pull so much out of so many different poems.
She taught me to start with the theme, the speaker, and the tone. Who is the poem about, what is he or she saying, and how is he or she saying it? From there, I look for diction and syntax, which is word choice and placement, as those things are usually chosen for a reason in poetry. Then I look at sound, figures of speech, and finally rhythm and meter. We looked closely at seven poems this semester and took our poetry test today. My favorite poems were “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden and “I Could Not Stop For Death” by Emily Dickinson. I identify so much with the former, and the latter is just so interesting to me. Dickinson personified death and wrote about him like he was a gentleman escorting her to her “eternity;” she was strangely upbeat about the whole idea.
I want to share and look at one of my old poems, because I am curious if authors think about these elements of poetry when they write their poems, or if they are things that develop naturally. I know I didn’t think about poetic elements when I wrote mine.
“Four More Months” is a poem about my mother and alcoholism. I felt trapped at the time I wrote this, and was looking ahead to the day I could move out.
Four More Months
She lifted the instigator,
That Hell that would spread itself,
That corrupter that will come to destroy me
If I don’t get out somehow,
Away from this madness.
And as I looked at her,
That tormentor turned toward heaven–
A laugh in God’s eye–
She gulped and gulped
Her life away and mine.
I sat motionless, mesmerized by my present state.
If only they knew.
And I awaited,
Aware of the altercation that would arise
Out of nothing.
And I smiled,
Knowing that this is my life
For four more months.
Four more months of Hell.
Right away, I notice all of the alliteration: “…Tormentor turned toward heaven-,” “motionless, mesmorized…,” “imprisoned, illusioned…,” “awaited,/ aware of the altercation that would arise.” Harder sounds are present in the lines describing the drinking, which I guess could signify an attack. Softer sounds are present in lines detailing my own actions, or rather, my lack of them.
The words “instigator,” “Hell,” “corrupter,” and “tormentor,” used to describe my mom’s drink are incredibly negative. They are analogous to my feelings about alcohol at the time. I blamed what happened to me on the drinking.
I can’t really think of anything else to pull out of this poem that is of substance. I don’t think it’s a terrible poem, but I suspect I could do better today, having been acquainted with better poetry. “Four More Months” is very much a prose-writer’s attempt at poetry. I’m going to try to write something soon.
I want to read more poetry. Who are some of your favorite poets? Do you have a favorite poem?