kateriyaki asked: Hello. I love reading the poetry you post... But I'll admit I don't understand poetry.. Could you help me? I know this is a really vague question

If you love the poetry but don’t understand the poetry, you’re actually closer to enlightenment then you might think. Don’t try to understand it; rather, try to understand why (or how) you love it. I wish more people were like you.

That said, it is empowering to know some of the concepts of how poems are put together. They can help readers like you describe why they love.

The single most important concept or term I wish people would focus on more is tension or torque. This refers to the stress or friction between practically any two parts/pieces of the text. It can be the tension between words, lines, sentences, the sounds of the words and phrases, images, whole sections/stanzas, the title and the text body, etc., as well as the dramatic tension between the people in the poem, the narrative, etc.

Tension is undervalued at all levels of poetry. Poets with some training seem okay at the sound part of this—choosing words based on how interesting they sound together—but not enough poets favor friction between contexts and especially images. There was a time when people went to poetry for consonance and harmony (say the 19th century), but if you read Shakespeare, there’s all kind of torque in his phrases, figures of speech and dramatic situations. Things put together that don’t normally go together are interesting.

Does that make sense? I probably need some examples of tension. Here’s one:

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And carried Me away –

This is Emily Dickinson, a tension master (and in the 19th century!). Lot’s of tension is coming from the metaphor of the loaded gun. Makes you almost cringe, just thinking about the image itself (a loaded gun is visceral). There’s dramatic (story) tension too, when something happens to the gun (the Owner carries it away…why? What next? etc.). There’s other kinds of tension as well and we could drill further down into each of them. But that’s the idea—start by asking what’s “wrong” or “not normal” or “strange” about the poem.

  1. ajohnny said: AH — that’s my favorite Dickinson poem!
  2. uutpoetry posted this