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Ask the Feed: Agony Aunt Gives What For to an Imaginary Student Supposedly Interested in Theme

September 25, 2010

During the last couple of weeks, no one has sent this email, though a dozen folks a day could have:

Hey.  I found this blog when I searched the web for “santiago baca chile poem theme.”  And that was me searching for “theme of espada pawnshop on the latin night.”  And probably me again looking for “sally CRoft bread and poem themes.”  I’m not for sure about that last one, I was working at the last minute.  And a little hungover.

Anyway, I keep ending up here and just wanted to say that this site sucks for research.  All you do is read poems!

Dear Hungover:

I don’t know what your prof told you about theme.  Probably something like themes are ideas that an author presents in a literary work.  Fair enough.

The thing is, though, when an essay author or journal article author presents an idea, it tends to be in a tidy thesis of some kind.  And you’ve become good enough at skimming abstracts, precis, first paragraphs, and–let’s be honest here–SparkNotes and its seamier cousins, that you’re frustrated with poems.  What are these awful little things that won’t even say what they have to say?

Little works of art, that’s what.  And ideas in artworks tend to emerge.  We get spoken to, shown, reached into, acted on, not just told or declared to.  Implicit things in art become–eventually, sometimes–explicit in us.

When you go angling across the Internet for themes in Elizabeth Bishop or whomever, that’s just you finding strangers who’ll gossip with you about a girl who’s not there.  Maybe you hear good stuff, maybe it’s BS, but how would you know?  Because it’s certainly not you striking up any kind of rapport with a poem you might actually like.

So.  You’ve found exactly the right site.  Hit play and listen to your poems.  Read along.  They’re short, so listen over and over.  Wrecked or right side up, you’ll start to hear things, start to have a few thoughts of your own.  Push up the sleeves of that grubby hoodie and write these down.  Think on these things.  See what you start to understand.  There you go, that’s a start.

Cordially, Poetry Feed’s own Agony Aunt

p.s.  I repeated your search terms word for word so when your lazier-than-you roommate uses your cached searches for his “research,”  he’ll find us having this little talk.  Ha ha!  Clever Auntie!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter permalink
    September 25, 2010 5:00 pm

    This is so pleasant. I really enjoy the poems you select to read. Many poets I’d have never heard of if I hadn’t happened upon this website. When I listened to the excerpt from T.S. Eliot, I went ahead and read all four Quartets. I must say that I really, really enjoyed reading it aloud and hearing the words play off one another.

    But all this to say, this post makes me chuckle as one who majored in English since some non-English majors always bemoaned writing about poetry.

  2. September 25, 2010 6:13 pm

    That’s great, Peter–thanks!

    I read most of these poems from books I have, but plenty of those books I hadn’t cracked open for a long time before I read from them here, and when I do open them I always read more than just the one. And some are library books, and then there are other poems/poets here I wouldn’t have known at all either if it weren’t for the blog. The poets I read during the World Cup, for instance.

    So the blog’s been great for my own reading habits. I’m glad you can say the same!

    Cheers, KP

  3. September 26, 2010 6:05 pm

    Bravo! I love this good stuff, Sir!

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