The Trouble With Poetry

As I come to the close of my fourth week of poetry class, I have begun to think very seriously about the aspects of poetry, as well as the difficulty a person faces when judging and grading it. So much depends on the reader. A word that fits the rhyme scheme when the author reads the poetry may not sound right when someone else does. Likewise, a word may mean one thing to the author and an entirely different thing to the reader.

Take, for instance, the word “sliver”. (And yes, I am breaking one of my professors’ cardinal rules by putting the period after the quotation mark.)

In class, one of my friends wrote about how a “sliver of steam curled upward”, and instantly I got the image in my mind. When it came time to discuss the poem, the professor noted that he couldn’t imagine a sliver curling.

My friends and I stared at him blankly. I asked him what kind of sliver he was thinking of.

“The kind that you get in your finger, like a sliver of wood,” he replied.

“You mean a splinter?” I questioned.

To which he responded, “Is that what a sliver is to you? It must have something to do with dialect.”

And that’s just it. When one is reading or analyzing poetry, you have to keep the author in mind. I am a small-town, southern farm girl. I live and breath my culture and my society. No matter how many years of college I obtain, I will always have that in me. I will always say “ya’ll” and “fixin’ to”. I will forever call potatoes “potatas” (pronounced puh-tay-tuhs), and a sliver, to me, is a slice.

A friend recently pointed out to me that the word “prejudice” didn’t fit the rhyme scheme very well in my poem “Assumption”. I went back to look at it and, pronouncing it as I know it is supposed to be pronounced, I could see what she meant. But then I did a double-take. In reading the poem out loud to myself, I noticed something very interesting. Despite the fact that I know how prejudice is supposed to be pronounced, I still pronounce it pre-j-dice. The “u” is totally lost in my general use of the word. Thus, my version of prejudice fits the rhyme scheme perfectly. The real word, however, probably doesn’t.

Another example of the effects of culture on poetry is an experience I had a couple weeks ago. I had brought my poem called “Sunbeam” to class. It’s one of my favorite poems and, I have always believed, one of my crowning achievements as a poet. However, when it came time to comment, my professor tore the thing apart. He was very much against the concept of the sunbeam being a good thing. To him, the sun was “evil”.

At first I was quite upset. I thought the man had gone nuts. What was wrong with the sun? Looking back on it now, however, I do realize one thing. My professor is not from the south. He comes from England, a place where there is always plenty of green country and rain to feed the foliage that grows there. No doubt, living in Texas, particularly during the worst drought in the history of our state, is a rather scarring experience. To me, however, this is home. Home is Texas, where there are plenty of sunny days and few bitterly cold winters. And I am rarely ever warm enough, so the sun is a good and welcome thing to me. Unlike my professor, I don’t blame the drought on the sun. I blame it on the high pressure in the atmosphere, which keeps away the much-needed rain. But that, of course, could very well have everything to do with my background.

All in all, I’m rather apprehensive of mid-term grades for this class. How will my teacher grade my poetry? Will he judge it on his standards alone? If so, I might be in trouble. All I can say is I hope he remembers to consider culture and dialect.

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5 thoughts on “The Trouble With Poetry

  1. Very good thoughts you have here Lyn. I never thought to pronounce prejudice as you did. You are so very right in saying that ones poetry and as with most things about a person has to do with how they were brought up, where they were brought up etc. The whole sliver scenario really was quite entertaining, and I found it interesting that while you are a small-town southern farm girl, I am a small-town northeastern girl and yet we both think of sliver as the same thing. I don’t think that you have anything to worry about with your midterm grade. I wouldn’t stress about this class at all.

  2. I’m very pleased with your observations. I understood your frustration and dismay over the “Sunbeam” experience, however, there are always two sides to every issue. You are growing a lot and it is evidenced in your writings here. This is how life is, not just poetry. Learning to accept another’s viewpoint in this class will be most valuable it your relationships with people. Keep growing, Precious Daughter!

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