The thing I enjoy most about writing poetry is getting a response from readers.
Some, far more knowledgeable than I, make corrections to my form or suggest wording I never would have thought of. Their technical expertise makes me a better poet, and more, a better writer in general. (Yes, I know I ended a sentence with a preposition. So shoot me! - N.K.)
Other readers comment upon the content, the meaning, of my poems. This is a thrill for me—to discover what people take away from my words. Quite often, it’s not what I had in mind at all.
I try to write poems with layers of meaning. There must be a surface story or philosophy to satisfy literal readers, who can see a stream or a leaf as nothing but flowing water or vegetation. There is no deeper meaning for these folks, and they deserve a forthright story or commentary in return for their reading efforts. They keep my poems anchored in reality.
Beneath the surface, however, I manipulate words and symbols to tell the nuanced reader something of myself, my experience or philosophy. Often, to my surprise and delight, I find a panoply of interpretations proposed as my “deeper meaning”. Many of these have nothing to do with what was on my mind as I wrote. Are those interpretations wrong?
Sorry, English teachers. The true meaning of a poem isn’t in “the book”. It isn’t even what the poet had in mind during it’s creation. No, it’s in the heart of each reader.
True, I have something in mind when I choose a metaphor. But that body of symbols is very personal. They are based upon my experiences and interpretations. The same symbols mean something quite different to others because their experiences are different from mine. If I’ve done it right, my metaphors become a mirror for their understanding of life—not mine. I’ve made a connection, built a bridge. It matters not at all whether it’s a suspension bridge or a simple stone arch, as long as the reader and I can meet in the middle.
So what does a poem mean?
Whatever you want it to. (There's that pesky preposition again!- N.K.)
Fred Waiss is a former high school teacher and coach who writes poetry, articles, short stories, novellas, and novels as the muse attacks; as an author he considers himself a work in progress.