When Is a Poem Not a Poem?


Do you remember in school when you were given a poem and told to dissect it, like poetry is a lab rat waiting for the vivisection of your biro?

Last night I went to see Bill Moran in Chez Le Fab. It was a nice event, with some good poetry, and a very interesting use of mixed-media. Afterwards, myself, the guest, and a few of the audience went to Mickeys (for a change) and got discussing.

We talked at length about art, life, and poetry.

In school, poetry was something to be picked open like a carcass, and inside that carcass was the ‘gem of hidden meaning’ which the poet had layered under metaphor, imagery and between lines. This Gem of Hidden Meaning was the ‘True Poem’ which had been hidden from you until you were wise in the ways of alliteration and articulation.

There is another school of thought that suggests interpretation itself is art, and that each audience member, each reader, each viewer, is an artist of themselves, and that these interpretations are fractals of art repeating into infinity, each knowable only by the observer. In this school of thought, it doesn’t matter what something means, it only matters how it made you feel. Thus, as an artist, you no longer have to care about your work because it’s not up to you to put any feeling in, that’s the job of the audience.

I struggle with these ideas in my own life, as an artist, poet, and audience member.

In the first, why bother writing if you’re going to be so cryptic? You write because you have something to say. So say it. Be bold. Don’t hide behind layers. Sure, you can be multi-faceted, you can have several meaning if you’re very good, but each layer should have its own independent meaning. Don’t write something and then hide it until the reader follows your breadcrumbs of academia.

In the second, the artist has made a piece of work and then abandoned it to the whims of the audience. If you took the time to make something, then you should have a reason for why you made it. Your art cannot just be a floating idea of ephemeral nothing-ness waiting for each audience member to interpret it into life. Audiences pay to be manipulated. It’s your job to make them feel something. Yes, each piece can and will be interpreted differently, but you should be in conflict with those subjective interpretations, not giving in to them.

Good art has intent. That is, art which knows not only what it is, but why it is.

So when is a poem not a poem?

When it has nothing to say.

After all, if you don’t have anything to say, why are you saying anything?




This blog was written by Shane ‘The Ranter’ Vaughan. If you have something to say and nowhere to say it, why not send it in to us at stanzas.limerick@gmail.com. We’re looking for essays, reviews, ideas, or just general rambling.

When Is a Poem Not a Poem?

One thought on “When Is a Poem Not a Poem?

  1. Robert Eunson says:

    Well said and easy to understand..Words can change live’s..Sometimes a few words can live with you for a life time like ” Everything that happen’s is a miracle ” From the film Breathless by jean Luc Godard..Very glad to get my poem Spend Spend Spend onto this years the new Stanza Limeick CD.


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