Poetry Club, day 2

When I was writing The Joy of Poetry, I tried to address the poetry skeptics, those who hate poetry or at least think they do. Often that’s because they don’t feel they understand it. So most of the poems I used were pretty straightforward.

Except for this one, which dropped off in the rewrite. It raises more questions than it answers. And it’s one in which I suspect the poet was having a little fun.

 

Some People Think

 

that poetry should be a-

dorned or complicated I’m

 

not so sure I think I’ll

take the simple statement

 

in plain speech compress-

ed to brevity I think that

 

will do all I want to do.

 

~ James Laughlin

 

The line breaks in this poem are weird, especially the two where the word is hyphenated and carried over to the next line — for no apparent reason other than Laughlin wanted to do it that way. And it’s punctuated as only one sentence, despite the fact that it sounds like more than one.

So let’s read it as if it were a single prose sentence: “Some people think that poetry should be adorned or complicated I’m 
not so sure I think I’l l
take the simple statement 
in plain speech compressed to brevity I think that 
will do all I want to do.”

It’s begging for punctuation, isn’t it? It reads like a text message, without any signposts for where to breathe or stop.

How about this instead, which keeps it to one sentence but adds punctuation: “Some people think that poetry should be adorned or complicated — I’m 
not so sure — I think I’ll
 take the simple statement 
in plain speech compressed to brevity; I think that 
will do all I want to do.”

That’s a little more clear. But it loses something.

The original layout of the poem makes you slow down, makes you question. I tend to think of plain speech as being brief, but there are people who speak plainly but go on and on and on. Laughlin’s right; plain speech can be compressed to brevity. A poem can be playful.

Wait. Am I missing something? What if Laughlin intended this to be deep and meaningful? What if I’m all wrong about his use of wit? “I’m / not so sure.”

Friends, it’s OK to be unsure. It’s OK to tell your poetry buddy, “I don’t know what this means,” or even “I don’t like this one.” As I have buddied with poetry people, either one-on-one or in a Tweetspeak workshop, someone will have an insight.

Okay, your turn.

 

Comments

  1. I wonder if the first hyphen is to make it sounds like it’s going to be “poetry should be a …” (to make us expect a noun).

    Anyway, I felt that if someone didn’t think poetry should be complicated, he shouldn’t complicate it with weird line breaks!

  2. sound*

  3. I think he’s having some fun with us, driving home the point that while thoughts may come to us looking not as we expect, we can still get derive the meaning. AND that it’s the writer’s choice. I think he’s also having some fun with other poets, especially those who may turn up their noses at verse that’s straightforward, like it’s a poor cousin.

    His definition of poetry sits within the poem. I like it.

  4. There’s definitely irony there in his call for simplicity and plain-ness written in a style that takes some de-coding. I agree with his premise, particularly the word “compressed.” That’s my favorite thing about poems.

  5. I think the simplicity and unexpected breaks do what he wants them to do: amuse and even confuse! I like the unexpected, whimsical tone.

    We don’t have to take it all so seriously and over-analyze every poem. Sometimes poems can simply say what they mean, and just be simple.

  6. Heather Garcia says:

    This poem highlights one of the things that has made me steer clear of poetry: How in the heck am I supposed to read it?

    I’ve always tried to pause at the end of a line as a general rule. But in some (like this one) it comes out all weird. I think after reading your book, I eased up on what I thought were the rules and just read it as it comes.

    Aside from that, this poem is short, which gets brownie points from me. And talking about poetry and brevity makes me think of you and how I feel our conversations (online at least) tend to go. The long-winded me versus the pointed and poignant you. 🙂

  7. I never can figure out how one decides to title a poem with the first line of the poem.

    I think he complicated this on purpose to make fun.