Poetry and Explanation

Music: Fugue in A Minor.
By Dimitri Shostakovich. Sequenced by J. Marques.

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Nicholas Gordon

1. Since poetry is a partnership between poet and reader, what the poet meant is not what the poem means.

2. The image always means more than the explanation, making any explanation by the poet reductive.

3. Explanations by those other than the poet, however, may be enriching because they are not authoritative.

4. What, then, is a reader to do when faced with an intriguing passage that seems obscure? First, search her own mind and heart; second, search the minds and hearts of others through reading and conversation; third, treat the explanation of any poet foolish enough to make one with the same attention given to that of any informed reader; fourth, always be aware that the fault may be with the poet and not with the reader.

5. What, then, is a poet to do, having written a passage that many readers find obscure? First, consider whether the passage is unnecessarily obscure, and, if so, revise it; second, if the passage is richly obscure, have faith in your readers; third, if neither of the first two suggestions works, consider another vocation.

6. The only thing a poet should even consider explaining is what he never should have written in the first place.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon


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