One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been participating in One Single Impression’s weekly poetry prompt is that occasionally the question arises of how autobiographical (or not) a particular poem may be. I’ve noticed it in how I view some of the poems I read on other blogs, and I’ve seen it in comments left for me. Some bloggers post additional comments to give the backstory of their poem, or dedicate it in a way that gives readers insights, but many times the poems are just offered as they are, and readers decide. We can probably all agree that knowing the biography of a particular poet can often enhance our understanding of “what the poem means” but can it sometimes be a distraction that has the potential, at least, to alter or limit what we can take away from it for ourselves?
Lately, on my blog and on some others, American poet Robert Frost has been mentioned. I was thinking of another poem of his that I love and have memorized – Bereft. I love it for its vivid imagery, and the soft undercurrent of sorrow that runs throughout. I know a little of Frost’s life, but not enough to say: Oh yes, that must have been written about such-and-such. Still more questions crowd in – is the whole poem personal, or just a few lines? Might he simply have explored an old abandoned beach house one day on a lark, and constructed the melancholy poem around that event? What might change for me if I did know where Frost’s inspiration was deeply autobiographical - or a complete fabrication?
Another of Frost’s poems that I enjoy very much, one that isn’t set in New England, is the light-hearted history lesson in The Bearer of Evil Tidings. It’s obviously closed to speculation that it came from his personal life, but wait – what if it came in part from some old childhood book that was read to him? There’s just no telling, unless, of course, the author chooses to. I’m also reminded of the stirring essay and poem that fellow blogger Sandy Carlson wrote for OSI last week, where she talks about a poet’s/poem’s ability to create intimacy and distance both at once. It’s a very insightful post on the subject, worth re-reading.
I’d love to hear from any of you about this, either as a writer or reader, or both. What do you or don’t you assume when reading poetry? What is your own best source of inspiration?
The photo was sent to me by my friend, Sydney; it’s her beautiful blossom-covered backyard deck last spring. I thought the view, taken through the screen, kind of suited this post.
The Cloud Messenger (Meghadūta) is a lyric poem by the respected Indian poet, Kālidāsa. The poem centers around a yaksa in exile. Longing for his beloved, waiting for him on a Himalayan mountain, he asks a cloud to take a message to her. The sights he tells the cloud it will see on its way make up most of the poem.
The idea of recording observations appeals to me. I thought The Cloud Messenger was the perfect title for a blog about the journey that we all make as we move through our days.
I'm a baby boomer who grew up dancing in the streets of Detroit during the classic Motown years, lived beside the Rocky Mountains for many years, now retired and living (and writing full time) in S. Ontario. I have one blog for rock 'n' roll oldies, and one for nature, poetry and life along the Lake.