22 nov. 2004

Is there an intimidation factor in poetry? The genre itself is intimidating to many readers. That is, just knowing it's a poem makes people think "I won't understand it," even if it is the most accessible text possible. This is based on a fundamental misconception that poetry is a language of secret meanings that some readers know how to extract and others don't. It's basically a High-School English class view, but unless someone has some other meaningful encounter with poetry later on, it will likely stick.

Of course there are difficult texts, and even "hidden meanings." The problem is when even a simple text has to be read in an allegorical mode. You know, those plums in the ice-box have to be about sex, or death. The John in "I Know a Man" is John the Baptist. There is a time to be more literal-minded, or to have the sensitivity to know when an object in the poem is not a "symbol" of something else.

(Well, those plums really are about sex, at some level, but that is not their meaning. It's more like an overtone that's "there" without being there.)

Now what Billy Collins does is elicit symbol-mongering with a broad brush, insulting the reader's intelligence. People love to have their intelligence insulted, apparently. His poems explain themselves to the reader. They are like the academic poem of the 1950s (a Nemerov, say), but taken down a few educational levels (Graduate School to High School).

Now back to the instruction manual on the use of new metals.

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