Updated: Feb 11, 2019
I want readers to understand what I am trying to get across.
Poets tell me about the struggle of their poetry being read or heard. The challenge of being actually understood.
They search for the right balance between expressing their poetry genuinely, and at the same time, getting their message across, to their readers.
Being understood as poets involves two elements: The writer and the reader.
Before I explain it all, I will shortly sum it up for you:
One, It is not exactly the poet's job to become understood. Two, Not each reader is meant to be reading poetry.
Let's begin with the simple one:
Firstly, express! Express without putting any thought into being understood. Secondly, later, much later, work on rephrasing to help readers understand: Edit. Never try to write a “reader friendly” text right from the get-go. It will stop your flow.
Your first draft might assume that your reader can read what's inside your head. After writing the first draft, try to think from the perspective of your reader, who is, funny enough, NOT in your head. Connect the dots for them, while keeping the integrity of your poem intact.
Let's take one poet as an example, there's one poet right here with me, oh, it's me… haha. You know, personally, I tend to write two different kinds of poetry: Short and simple, or Long, complex and full of confusing imagery. When I write something short and simple, then people understand me easily. But when I write a text that is complex and full of imagery, people don't understand, and I don't know how to be understood all by myself!!! I need help! I work with an editor, a good and sensitive one. One that respects my creativity, and never tries to go against it, but nurtures it. They guide me and my text, into sharpening and polishing the heart of the message that the poem turned out to be about. They help me turn it into a more “reader friendly” material.
Now, let's talk about the reader. After all the work done by the editor and I, there are plenty of people still telling me: “I loved it, I didn't understand all of it, but I loved it.” And that is fine. Poetry isn't meant to be understood so much as it is meant to be felt. Now, consider also that each reader is different, and not every reader will define their reading experience in the same way. The way I see it, some people are simply not our “target market” (so to speak). They will never get poetry, they will never get that as they read poetry they are not supposed to understand, nor are they expected to.
Actually, if they understand, but there is no interesting emotion evoked in them, they are actually reading pretty boring poetry. Most people find that letting go of the need to understand (in fact, to control) very difficult! It is the state of things in our western society, that's all.
Let's take me, as an example for a reader, because, again, I happen to be right here as I am writing this…lol... I am the kind of reader who IS our “target audience”. One who is willing and thrilled to read a poem without searching for a linear logical understanding within them, no. They (I) search for pure feeling, for an emotional reading experience. They might understand some of the poem, and might not. The thing is, that the magic of a good poem is hanging in that magical space in between understanding and not understanding, and at the same time in a strong emotional response.
Not all readers are meant to read poetry. In fact, I think, that every reader who even utters the words: “I didn't understand”, is not your reader. Say: “ok, thanks for reading” and go on to writing your next poem, and finding other readers.
I'll leave you with another creator’s perspective on this. Daniel Eisenhut, though he is a painter, the creative process of creating and sharing is similar, and I believe poets can learn a lot from him. Here is a video of me interviewing him.