To many non-specialists of literature, poetry is deeply unsatisfying. There are several reasons for this, but two in particular come to mind. The first is that most poetry is overly descriptive, leaving little to the imagination; the second is that the rest of it is abstruse. This presents the non-specialist with a dilemma: either to persevere in the thankless task of attempting to unravel an increasingly unrewarding literary crossword; or to make do with the superficialities of descriptive verse and the resultant ennui. Both projects would presumably confirm any prejudices that these readers entertained about the relevancy of poetry to their lives. In circumstances such as these, I think it would be appropriate to introduce a method of poetic appreciation, which, although unorthodox, would encourage the non-specialist to revise any negative opinion of poetry held.
The first thing that has to be drawn to the attention of these readers is the fact that it is up to them to come to an understanding of the poem. The poem is unlikely to facilitate such a response without this active participation on their part. The main thing to point out to them is that valuable time and effort would be wasted in attempting to look for the poem's intended meaning. Rather, a more helpful course would be to encourage readers to actively engage in their own particular and personal exegetical responses to the text - however idiosyncratic or perverse the results of this may appear.
It is of minor importance whether the commonly received meaning of the poem is discerned by the reader or not, as the ultimate aim of such a personal response is to enhance the enjoyment value of the work as opposed to engaging in a scholastic deciphering of its hermetic aspects. What the poem is meant to mean should not be of paramount concern for readers wishing to gain satisfaction and enjoyment from the work. On the contrary, surface meaning can sometimes be more of a disadvantage than a blessing, as in such instances the poem disallows the mind an active part in the creative process that the enjoyment of art requires.
A satisfying poem is one that enters the reader's mind and turns the key to his or her imagination. It enables them to find meanings and emotions that hold a particular significance and relevance to their experience. A poem that fails to satisfy does the opposite: it tells you what it is about, the emotions you are to feel and the understanding you are to have.
Each reader should be permitted the fundamental privilege of formulating a meaning which would (for that reader) be the quintessence of the poem's significance. The words and images of a poem should be looked upon as devices that the reader can solicit to paraphrase their own experiences. Such an approach to reading poetry, if widely understood and accepted, could possibly restore poetry to its status as an important and popular art form.
Jeffrey Side has had poetry published in various magazines including: T.O.P.S., The White Rose, Poetry Salzburg Review, ism, Sphinx and Homeground. And his poems have appeared on various poetry web sites such as Poethia, nthposition, Ancient Heart Magazine, Blazevox, hutt and Cybpher Anthology.
He has reviewed poetry for New Hope International, Stride Magazine, Acumen and Shearsman Magazine. From 1996 to 2000 he was the assistant editor of The Argotist magazine. He now runs The Argotist Online web site: