Yesterday’s essay was about what goes into a poem that isn’t seen by readers. It focused on the work of writing and changes to a poem that happen before it’s finished.
This essay focuses on something else that goes into a poem that isn’t necessarily seen by readers – the personal experiences of a poet.
Sometimes poets write poetry that express ideas and emotions and are about situations to which they aren’t connected. For example, a poet might write a poem about having a heart attack, even though neither they nor anyone they know has had one.
This idea isn’t bad. A lot of knowledge of experiences can be gained without direct experience. A poet can successfully express things even if they haven’t been through them. Also, the emotion and ideas a poet gets across aren’t somehow less just because the poet hasn’t been through something.
In other cases though, a poet has gone through something before they write a poem. Maybe the poet had a heart attack. Maybe the poet went through something else.
Sometimes readers can tell that a poet has personal knowledge of something. The poet might include details and ideas that someone who hasn’t been through something might not know nor understand. This can come across to readers, especially if the reader has been through the thing the poet is writing about.
In other situations, a poet may directly tell readers about their experience in addition to the poetry they write. For example, a poet may let readers know they had a heart attack before the readers read their poems about them.
In other situations though, readers might not know what a poet has gone through. Sometimes a poet doesn’t tell readers, and sometimes readers can’t tell when they read a poem.
These types of situations can affect both the poet and the reader.
From the poet’s perspective, it can feel somewhat unfulfilling to have their work seen as just another work, when to them it is very personal. Imagine a poet went through a traumatic experience. It might feel bad to them to have people read their poetry about it as if the poet had no connection to what they were writing about. It might make them feel bad to think that readers might view their work as if it was written with an outside perspective of something. There is something about going through an experience that makes expressing ideas about it personal.
From the reader’s perspective, a reader might not fully appreciate a poem if they don’t understand the poet’s circumstances. A poem about homelessness, for example, would be read differently if a reader didn’t know the poet had been homeless, than if they knew they had been. In these situations, a reader might not get the depth of emotion the poet is trying to express.
For poets writing about something they personally have been through, there are some steps they can take to improve the situation.
First, as mentioned above, a poet can tell readers about their situation. This telling can take various forms. It might be many pages of explanations or just a short note before a poem.
This can be a good way to explain things in some situations. Sometimes what a person has gone through is so significant that readers should overtly know about it before reading the poet’s work.
Second, a poet can try to include details and emotions in their work. They can focus on those things that only someone connected to an experience might know. They can write about what particular moments were like and what particular experiences felt like.
If a poet does this well, readers should be able to understand that the poet is at the very least knowledgeable about what they are writing about, as well as potentially connected to it.
For poets, having readers understand the connection to your work can be important. It can be important for both the poet and for the reader. If a poet can in some way get this connection across, both will be better for it.