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  • Writer's pictureKidd Williams

Southern Tier Literary Life

DECODING POETRY – MAKING IT MORE ENJOYABLE FOR ALL


By Kidd Williams


One of my best friends and I had a long habit of meeting every so often at a restaurant in Honeoye Falls to be writers together. A few days before, we’d email each other copies of what we’d written lately. He would send a chapter of various novels, or a short story. I would send, mostly, drafts of new poems. At the restaurant, we’d order heaps of food, and eat and drink while we talked about what we liked in each others’ pieces, or probe the craft and technique used to  achieve literary effects. We felt as though we were our own Algonquin Round Table. 

 

When we started our get-togethers, he admitted that he wasn’t entirely comfortable reacting to poetry. Like most, his experience with poems came only from school, for assignments and tests.


“I always think that a poem has some secret meaning, like a code, and I never know if I ‘get it’ or not,” he told me once. (I think this is a common feeling. I also think that some poets believe it, too – or at least write as though they do.) 


So how does – or should – or can – someone read poetry?  


I’m not here to deliver “The One Right Way To Treat a Poem”, but I am here to suggest an alternative. A poem, instead of being a message wrapped up in literary tricks, can be approached, with more fun, as a playground for your imagination. This approach yields rewards beyond just  “cracking open” its meaning.


1. Read it for the sounds alone. Listen for just the vowels, or for strings of consonants that come close together. (Those two lines with, say, lots of “m” sounds? Just relish those, without questioning whether it means something that they’re there.) 


2. Read it like a screenplay. How does the “camera” move, and what objects or images does the poem ask you to look at? In what order? From which direction? Is it easy or hard to “see,” in  your mind, how the poem would look if you filmed it?


3. Read it in different voices. Imagine it being said aloud by people whose voices you know well. Your mother’s voice. The voice of Mr. Rogers. Of Oprah. (I guarantee you will  discover new delight if you imagine Emily Dickinson’s poems preached by a fiery, confident, Black pastor.)  


4. Read for the spaces. Line and stanza breaks are unique to the poem, over any other form of writing. Consider where they’re placed. How do you read them – with a pause, a sigh? Or do you rush through them?  


5. Read for the images. What are the strongest images being described? Let them ricochet in your mind like a pinball in a loaded machine. (See what I did there? Now you’re thinking of playing pinball – what does that help you remember? Bell sounds? An arcade you used to go to? The taste of the nachos you’d eat while you waited to play the next game?) Use the images from a poem as a springboard for your own associations and memories. 


A poem can be more than a container for a message that the poet wants to give to you. At its most powerful, poetry is an invitation to imagination, along a set of tracks set down by someone else. Accept this invitation, and you will find more avenues for enjoyment – and, perhaps, the audience for poetry will grow, too, inspiring poets themselves to write even better ones. (But  that’s a subject for another time.)


Poems by Kidd Williams


Someone Said Poetry Doesn’t Matter Anymore


Poetry was her solace through high school, poetry

got her the college scholarship, poetry

kept her late in the library studying, where poetry

warmed her heart for his handsomeness, and his poetry

wooed her and won her to him. Poetry

joined them in marriage, and poetry

blazed through her newlywed letters. Later, poetry

beautified his apologies after the beatings, meaning poetry

preserved their marriage until poetry

christened their child. Sung poetry

lulled her child to sleep, and, later, rhymed poetry

taught her child to read. She thought writing poetry

gave her a purpose after motherhood, and poetry

either broke her soul or saved it, though poetry

could never tell her the difference. Poetry,

or a poet’s example, fed her all the pills at once, and poetry

was spoken as her casket was lowered, while poetry

consoled her family and friends, who put poetry

in deep letters on her headstone, deep enough for poetry

to matter, finally – though some still say it’s poetry

that’s dead.


– Kidd Williams


 

Words


Because they chain together like

precious beads.

Because they are neither a mirror

nor a mask.

Because when I whisper them, you

move in closer to hear.

Because they are composed of nothing, yet

sculpt the jaw and throat and tongue to make.

Because they allow talk over long

distance, or even time.

Because there are millions of them, but

still not one for everything.

Because everyone will have last ones.


– Kidd Williams

About Kidd Williams

Kidd Williams is the publishing and performing name of Joy Williams, a trans woman poet and musician in Bath, NY. Her work has appeared throughout the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier in numerous regional anthologies, and has been exhibited in juried art shows as well as displayed in outdoor parks through the City of Elmira's "Poetry Posts" projects. She has also been a featured performing artist, including as an invited poet reading on stage at Corning PRIDE 2019. She and her wife, Tara, have lived in Bath almost forever, with many companion animals that sport fur or scales. She contributed a series of essays and poems to Southern Tier Life in June 2022.


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