Poetry is supposed to be appreciated. Good poetry invokes an emotion, it paints a picture with words in your heart that no image can. Good poetry is supposed to be read and enjoyed. But what about whenit comes to studying it?
I must say that the study of poetry is by and large a farce. I do not deny the value of studying the use of stanzas, couplets, blank verse, and all that other jazz. If one aspires to write poetry, one should understand the traditions and technical aspects of poetry so that one may utilize such knowledge in the creation of poetry. But one thing that really grinds my gears is the deep study of poetry that imparts no emotional experience to me.
Namely, it’s the study of the poet that bothers me. When one has to understand the context and the history of the poet in order to fully appreciate the poem, then I argue that the poem has failed. You see, it bothers me very much that we find this poet to be so incredibly important that we must delve into his or her past in order to understand the poem. In the respect that a poem is supposed to impart an emotional experience (or at least invoke an emotional response), the poem should, for the most part, be able to achieve its goal to that end without a little biography attached.What makes this poet so immensely important that we ought to figure out that she had been in an abusive relationship, or that her father was oppressive? This poet is not special: there are lots of women who were in her position. Such method of study is insultingly indulgent and self-absorbed. Like many books out there, the author is essentially expressing their inner thoughts and such in a manner that is stylized. But we must remember that these are merely personal ramblings.Take for example Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”. It’sessentiallythe work of a woman who is trying to express her sense of oppression and hate towards her father. Why are we supposed to study it? To be frank, I don’t find it particularly engaging. Largely, I describe it as angsty and self-absorbed.
Another poem to consider is “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. It’s surely an interesting poem, and one with a lyrical title no less. But in order to appreciate the poem “truly”, one must understand something about Millay’s past. A key piece of of information about the poet that is vital to understanding the poem is the fact that she was a very promiscuous woman in a time when such behavior was proscribed. Without this knowledge, what is one to make of the many lads who no longer cry out at midnight? How on earth could one interpret that to successfully gain the truth of her personal history?
You see, works worthy of study should not be so limited in scope. They should speak to people on a grander scale. It should speak to universals. It irritates me greatly that poems of no inherent cultural value are so intensely studied. Ultimately, interpretations of the poem have no bearing on life. Making a mountain of a mole hill is not something I have patience for.
Studying poetry should not entail the study of the poet. There are few people who are so great who deserve such attentions. Poetry should be appreciated on its own. My strongly held belief is that poetry must speak to emotions, and must do so independent of some mysterious allusion to the poet’s own personal life. Such poetry, while beautiful in its own right, are inherently self-indulgent and should not be forced upon students to be subject to scrutiny and “close readings”. What can be gained from such an analysis?