My Poetry Journal by D. Hogue
Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins (1988)
This poem reminds me, as a teacher, not to try to get my students to over-analyze a poem. I like the way the poem begins. Collins says, "I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide." He's talking to students, of course, and he wants them to see poetry not as words on a page but instead as something that has qualities and values that we may not often associate with words, like light or color. He wants us to understand that poems have texture and even a landscape that we may walk around in, touching and knowing.
The metaphor in the poem, "tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it" is a violent image. He is comparing the analysis of poetry to trying to get a prisoner to talk, even through torture. I never want reading and talking about poetry to be a torturous experience for the reader (or even for the poem). And through years of school, students have learned to torture poetry; they get good at it. I don't want anyone torturing anything in my classes. I'd rather we dropped mice into our poems.
There's more, of course, to poems than their rhymes
and meters. And in fact, I rarely enjoy a rhyming poem. But, saying that, I do
believe there are certain qualities that poems must have to actually qualify as
poems, and metaphor is one of those. In most of Collins's poems, I learn to see
things in a new way. He gets me to think and feel and I like that.
Keeping Things Whole by Mark Strand (1980)
I'm not sure how to say how this poem became my favorite. That it's the one in my book of The Selected poems of Mark Strand that he signed that day I met him (like meeting God in a way, isn't it?) doesn't explain it. This poem made me shiver before then. I think this was the first poem that made me feel, physically, a reaction to understanding. I remember knowing this poem in my senses before I knew it in my head, that is before I thought about it and put it into words. So, in a way, this is the poem that brought me to realize that poetry is language that drives into the heart instead of the head. I mean, I'd heard people say that before, but it had never been true for me before.
To me, this poem is about our relationship, our physical relationship, to the physical world. We are organisms that fill time and space. When we move from that time and space, something moves in to fill that void we leave. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum. There are no blank spaces in nature, in time, in history or even in the spirit of the world.
When Strand writes, "We all have reasons for moving. I move to keep things whole." to me he is showing that we have a physical purpose in the universe. Without us, each of us, as individuals, there would be empty spaces, there would be voids. And just as these empty spaces are not part of the grand design of things, we are. We are meant to be, to exist.
This poem says to me that each of us fills this very concrete purpose. But then I think that we are more. Keeping things whole means that we fill a needed space in the entire spiritual wholeness of the universe, too. If one of us, just one of us, is missing, the universe is no longer whole.
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