Monday, September 17, 2012

Analyzing Poetry

So, in my Literary Interpretations class we are currently learning about different methods of analyzing poetry and let me tell you, it is some of the most ridiculous stuff I have ever heard. I don't know who decided that the people who came up with the methods of analyzing poetry had that authority but, I'm so glad that around the 90's or so people started challenging their ideas and decided that they make no sense because really, they do. Let me share with you some of the basic ideas.

1) In order to truly understand poetry, historical context must be ignored. Apparently, poetry is only relateable to whatever is currently going on, no matter when it was written. Now, while I see how you can certainly apply old poems to current situations, it seems weird that that "true" way to analyze a poem means that you have disregard everything that was going on at the time it was written.

2) In order to truly understand poetry, authorial intent must be ignored. So now, not only are we ignoring what was happening when the poem was written, but also what the author was trying to say. Again, I can see how you can gain meaning from a poem without knowing what the author wanted you to know, but still, why not consider it?

3) In order to truly understand poetry, reader background must be ignored. Here the argument is that readers are subjective and that they will twist the interpretation of the poem to fit into their life. Well, yes, that is true. But if you aren't trying to make the poem connect with your life than what the heck are you analyzing it for anyway?

4) All allusion is essentially a lie. Since we are ignoring authorial intent, than we must ignore all allusion as we know it. Instead, all allusion is a two way street. For example, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (yes, I realize that this isn't actually a poem) alludes heavily to the Bible, but, the Bible also alludes heavily to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Even though it was written thousands of years earlier. Ok, I can kind of understand this idea if you read texts out of the order that they were historically written, but can you imagine if someone came up to you and said "Wow, I just finished reading the Four Gospels, there sure are a lot of allusions to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in it!"

Basically, all that matters to these crazy poetry people it the text itself. As in, the words themselves. So there is a lot of study about denotation, and connotation, and why this word was used instead of that word and so on and blah, blah, blah. It's really a pretty dry and dull way to analyze something, but I'd probably be ok with  it (aside from the fact that it's kind of boring) except that when the critics get tired of analyzing words, they start breaking their own rules.

Today we read some analysis by a guy who said that all poets essentially go through a literary Oedipus Complex, where they feel the need to "kill" whatever poetry they are alluding to and to make their piece better (oh, also apparently, according to him, every work of poetry refers to another work, whether you realize it or not). So, aside from the fact that this theory is a bunch of malarkey, it's all about authorial intent, it ignores the idea of "two way allusion", for the most part it deals with historical context, and is highly subject to the critics own interpretations. So, yeah, it just broke every rule and it's still a dumb was to analyze poetry.

Ironically, the only idea behind analyzing poetry that I thought was good was the three rules that they rip out of the text book in "Dead Poet's Society" (although I have no idea what happens in the rest of the story, we just watched that clip in class) which are that poetry should be measured by:

1) Determining the objective of the poem, what is the poem about, or what is it trying to tell you?
2) How well does the poem complete its objective/s (or its measure of focus)
3) How important are the objectives of the poem to the readers  (or its measure of significance)

A good poem either completes its objective/s well or has ideas that are important to the reader. A great poem is both important to the reader and is masterful in completing or expressing its objective/s.

That sounds like a good way to look at poetry to me!

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