Many people tend to look at poetry as this big, terrifying entity with hidden meaning waiting to kick you across the face as it taunts you just out of reach. I’m here to tell you to stop doubting yourself. Read a poem; think about how it makes you feel. Read it again, pick some images or words that stand out to you and roll them around your tongue. Or simply read it for the sake of reading.
When a poet puts pen to paper, sometimes there is a clear direction they wish to pursue and other times it’s just a flow of consciousness and emotion throwing itself up on paper.
Think about something—a situation, concept or emotion and what you associate with it. How does it make you feel? What images does it evoke? Dive deeper and expand, then play with the structure.
The poet has a reason for why they write but if the meaning the reader pulls from it differs from the original intent, that does not make it wrong. Poetry is for everyone and if you pull a meaning from a poem about loss of innocence or a family member and it helps you come to terms with losing your job or a beloved animal, and then the poem served its purpose.
For example, the poem “Design” by Robert Frost shows us a spider and moth on a flower mingling with images of life and death with the ever present question: does everything happen by design, simply random or does fate only bother with big picture problems?
Excerpt lines 1 and 2:
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Excerpt lines 13 and 14:
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.
This poem is filled with images of innocence contradicted by darkness; even the spider seems to be free on blame after taking the life of the moth. The image of death on something innocent is a sharp contrast.
Another example of this is the poem “A Dead Thing That, in Dying, Feeds the Living” by contemporary poet Donika Kelly. She ponders the “anatomy of the egg” as a mechanism through which to analyze the effect the termination of a relationship has as she moves towards acceptance.
Now, I am by no means an expert in analyzing poetry but the stigma that encapsulates it must be shattered. I’ve heard countless people, including myself, say “I just don’t understand poetry.” That’s a copout and we all know it. Poetry provides perspective. Some people see a spider ending the life of a moth and they continue with their day, but Frost saw so much more. He saw and an opportunity to ask a question that we all wonder about. Does the world care about things as ordinary as this? If not, at what point does it begin to?
Poetry can be about absolutely anything. Pen to paper to published; whether it flowed freely or each word was painstakingly inscribed, it was carefully crafted with deliberate decisions. It was created to be felt not picked apart and that is why no matter what meaning you take from it; catharsis or beauty, the important part is that you feel it.