The Self on Self (The Difficulties of Analysing Your Own Poetry)

This post is as much for my benefit as for anyone elses – I figured it might help those that find themselves in the same position as I am in now, and I’d rather share what I’ve just realised, hoping that it will help someone realise it sooner than I did, than just keep it to myself.

Right! Work is going well. Poems are mostly done, and the commentary is about half done, first draft though (so I still have a long way to go). The problem I’m having is that I don’t nearly feel that I have enough words to explain the poetry I’ve written. The commentary holds a maximum word limit of 3,000. We have to write about 16 poems. If the poems are short we write more, if long then less, etc etc. So I have about 17/18 poems, that means I have about 150 words to play with in the commentary per poem (including an introduction, that is).

Now, that’s a little on the short side. I like to write a lot – and my essays tend to finish up hitting the max, or higher, and so have to be cut down. 150 words in which to describe what influenced the poem, how you wrote it, what you wanted it to describe, how you edited it… is not really enough. That’s fine, because in the past I learnt to group poems by theme. You’d say something like ‘poems 1 2 and 3 are all about goats,’ and then you’d ramble on about why, and how they differ, and who/what they were influenced by, and you could hit a few birds with one stone. Then you’d say ‘and poems 4 and 5 are about pyjamas’ and go on from there – but it’s not so easy this time. In past portfolios, the poems tend to have been collected by theme(s) – as in, it was always ‘poems 3 4 and 5’ as opposed to ‘poems 4 8 and 12’. The magic of having the poems presented in the collection in order, in theme, means that when you discuss the meaning behind how the poems have been collected, the narrative is still in effect in the commentary. You say ‘my poems as a collection represents the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to butterfly’ and then your commentary continues as such; ‘poems 1 2 and 3 are the early stages of metamorphosis’.

This is all well and good if the collection works in a linear fashion. Mine doesn’t, really. Thats not to say it doesnt have a narrative, it does, just that it’s not linear. There are hiccups, hauntings, wakings, throughout the collection. But I’ve been trying to tackle it as if it were linear. I’ve been sitting here, writing ‘and so poem 1 slips into poem 2, in which we find…’ as if trying to explain my work in the same way that it should be read. This is the wrong way to do this (I’ve just realised – and really it’s not all that complicated, I guess I have been stressed of late…), what I should have done – and what I will do – is draw together the poems in the commentary in a different way to the way in which they are collected, analyse them, and then hopefully I’ll have enough words left to throw in a paragraph or two explaining why they have been collected in such a way – explain what the narrative is.

Nevertheless, I am still hesitant. Poems (for me, at least), tend to be about being that moment, or that thing; trying to experience it in it’s fullness, as it should feel itself. If you are writing from the view of a pigeon, then you must be the pigeon – you cannot turn upon yourself and say something like ‘I AM A PIGEON!’, or, at least, I know I wouldn’t, because it is not of itself. I approach many things in that same manner. The commentary, then, as much as it is outside the work, should also be within. If the commentary cannot work with the structure of the poems as they have been set out in the collection, then what does that say about the way in which the poems have been collected? If the analysis must stand outside the definition of what the collection is doing, then what is it doing? If the poems are collected in such a way as to try and deny a reading, then is re-arranging them in the commentary for ease of analysis faulty? Plus. we also have to remember that this is me commenting on my work. To what extent does my re-organising of my poems into a more analytically logical arrangement undo the arrangement they were in before?

I raises a number of interesting questions. In turn, I haven’t even asked the simple one; had I no word limit, would I be able to analyse the poems as they have been presented without losing the original message of the collection? Or would the message be lost? Or is that the idea – that the message needs to be lost – so the commentary is, in fact, simply an extension of the concept the poems are trying to convey themselves, in their arrangement? It feels as if I am applying a set of rules to a set of poems that are trying to reject those very rules I am finding myself forced to write within (phew!). In writing the commentary, then, I feel almost as if I am undoing my own undoing.

It is a curious feeling…

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1 thought on “The Self on Self (The Difficulties of Analysing Your Own Poetry)”

  1. This is really interesting, as I’m writing my own writing project at the minute and getting to the point where I feel I’m just going round in circles!
    Perhaps this is a bad attitude to take, but I sometimes wonder whether we need to think about it less, if only to get the project (and our courses) done and passed. Even if studying for an MA doesn’t really allow us to work or write quite how we’d like to, we’ll probably finish our courses with a better idea of how we do want to work. Good luck, anyway!

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