Saturday 28 May 2016

Poems explained online

There are books and study guides that explain individual poems, though the poems aren't always very recent. I think Ruth Padel's "52 ways of looking at a poem" and "The Poem and the Journey" provide a useful service. For many years "The North" has had a "Blind Criticism" section where 2 writers comment on a poem without knowing who write it. In "Smiths Knoll" editors sometimes wrote about a particular poem from the issue. The "Best American Poetry" and "Best British Poetry" anthologies have comments by poets, but rarely anything thorough or online.

Here are some places where you'll find online analysis of poems that aren't too ancient -


  1. This is something I feel very strongly about, Tim. How is anyone supposed to learn how to write poetry when no one talks about it? I do agree that producing a blow by blow account of how a poem comes about is perhaps asking too much but if enough of us write about aspects of our experiences writing then, gradually, a picture will emerge. It’ll be a distorted picture because none of us are the same but we’re not all that different either. It will at least give newbies ideas. I’d never thought to try using cutups until I read about David Bowie using them. It generated a grand total of one poem but if I’d stuck with it who knows? When my wife started publishing Bonfire she placed a condition on the contributors: no poem without commentary. It was a good idea although I know some struggled to think what to say. I struggle on my blog but then again I’m writing about poems I wrote some thirty years ago at the moment. If a poet genuinely finds it impossible to talk about his or her process I do think that’s a little worrying. Poetry’s a technique. Even these days. It was easier in the past where form was more evident but that was only one aspect of poetry and similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia and even rhyme haven’t disappeared even if the it’s-a-poem-because-I-say-it-is mentality hasn’t exactly done the form any favours.

  2. The commentary doesn't always work though. Some of the comments in BAP/BBP come over as smartypantsy or evasive, and sometimes there's not much to say anyway - the poem was a moment's inspiration. I like Jonathan Edwards' piece (just added to the list).