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.