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How do you analyze poetry? (1 Viewer)

andrew markworthy

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Erm, it's not a very good poem, is it? I love Laughing Len's song lyrics usually, but this left me cold.

Whilst disagreeing with the idea that literary criticism is total crap, there are times when you can read too much into things. E.g. there are several instances where critics have eulogised about the use of unusual vocabulary in James Joyce's works, only to find that the words were in fact misprints when the corrected editions came out a few years ago.

Again, there is the following example, which is a true story, but since the guy's still alive I'd better not tell you his true name. I used to know a reasonably well-known poet whose girlfriend had been given an essay to write on one of his poems. Now the woman's tutor didn't know that she was seeing the poet, and so as a joke, the girlfriend asked him to write the essay on 'what is the poet trying to express in this poem?'. It got a D. I know this sounds like one of those great apocryphal stories, but I swear it's true.
 

Dome Vongvises

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May 13, 2001
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Darren H says

And, more importantly, who really cares what the author thinks?
If anything, the author possesses the only relevant interpretation of his/her work. Why the hell should we listen to some professor's interpretation on somebody's else work? Critical analysis is great and all, but there lies the danger that a lot of professors love to "mold" a work of art/literature/prose to fit what they believe is the correct interpretation as opposed to the author's/artist's intentions.
 

Bruce Hedtke

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Jul 11, 1999
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How do you analyze poetry?
For me, you don't. Poets don't write to confuse. They write to connect. If the poem is confusing or seems unreadable to you, then you won't be able to connect with what the author was intending anyways. If you want to break down key phrases or words or diction or methods or style, fine but even understanding that probably won't lend insight to what the poet was thinking as they wrote the poem. I know it's too simplistic, but if you have to analyze a poem for meaning, then it has no meaning to you. And, just because you don't understand something about a particular poem, it doesn't make you any less intelligent to someone who does understand it.

Bruce
 

Darren H

Second Unit
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May 10, 2000
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Why the hell should we listen to some professor's interpretation on somebody's else work?
Um, maybe because they know a hell of a lot about the subject? I'm one exam and a dissertation away from earning my Ph.D. in American Lit., and I can promise you that gettin' one ain't easy. If you ask me a question about a prominent American writer, I will be able to offer an opinion that is better than most. That's not arrogance; it's the confidence that comes from having read all prominent American writers. It's my "job." For some reason, we in America acknowledge that engineers know more about engineering than we do, and that mathematicians know more about math than we do, but any scholar who has devoted her life to studying, say, Renaissance drama (and publishing books and articles on the subject, and delivering papers at conferences, and editing journals) is dismissed as a pedant with an agenda.
Dome, I apologize if this sounds like I'm attacking you. I'm not. But I am very frustrated by this attitude (even more than Janna, I'd imagine). It surprises me that anyone who would spend his or her spare time at an online forum discussing movies would be so resistant to a similar discussion of literature. Your literature teachers are trying to equip you with valuable criticalthinking skill. Take advantage of it. It's why you're in college.
[Darren steps down from his soapbox and retreats to his piles of unread books.] ;)
 

Holadem

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Nov 4, 2000
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I agree with most of your post except:

Hitchcock's films, for instance, are endlessly entertaining and are worth watching for the visceral thrill alone, but to ignore completely the other things that make his films so rich -- attitudes about religion, treatment of gender and sexuality, politics, etc. -- is woefully short-sighted.
All of those things were intended by Hitchcock, you will admit that.

Darren, is it ever possible that some of thoses analysis are bullshit? Is only the interpretation of the reader relevant? I am simply trying to get some of you to admit that not all analysis is correct, even in the vaguest meaning that "correct" takes in this situation.

--

Holadem
 

Iain Lambert

Screenwriter
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Jun 7, 1999
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Well, one obvious example here to quote you is Bladerunner. Any claim of a possible solution to the 'is Deckard a replicant' question is going to fall foul of the problem that the director believes he is, but the actor doesn't. If any unintentional subtext is 'bulls**t', then we hit a problem here.

Is reading Pac-Man as an indictment of consumerist culture, with the main character trying to collect everything before his ghosts consume him in turn so very bad?
 

Darren H

Second Unit
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May 10, 2000
Messages
447
Darren, is it ever possible that some of thoses analysis are bullshit? I am simply trying to get some of you to admit that not all analysis is correct, even in the vaguest meaning that "correct" takes in this situation.
To quote from my first post (the paragraph that begins LET ME MAKE THIS CLEAR): "Hearing Cohen talk about this poem would probably be pretty interesting -- as I would also love to have heard Melville talk about Moby Dick -- but he does not hold claim to the definitive explanation. Assuming that you can defend it using the text, your interpretation is just as valid as his." That last sentence is a key to my argument. No, not all analyses are valid. I'm not talking about simple, subjective opinion, unsupported by textual evidence. I am talking about good criticism -- the type that wrestles with the text, exposes its inner workings and conflicts, and teaches us something about our world and artistic expression.
My conception of art assumes a dialog: the text (whether it be a novel, a poem, a film, a song, a dance, or a painting) communicates messages to the audience, demanding a response, both intellectual and emotional. This has become an increasingly unpopular conception in America. What I'm reacting against here is the simplistic and lazy assumption that no one but the author is qualified to form an opinion about a particular work, that we are necessarily passive recipients of some perfect, mystical message that is communicated without interference from the Author. That's bullshit, and I think that the tremendous variety of responses to a work like, say, 2001 (a popular point of debate around here) is proof.
Trust me. I know exactly what type of literary criticism you're frustrated by. Anyone who has taken a college lit course in the last 20 years has probably heard a lecture on the "dehumanizing colonial practices of The Tempest" or "Hemingway's misogyny" or "homosocial bonding in 'Benito Cereno.'" Personally, I find some of it more useful than others, but I deliberately put it in those terms: "useful" or "not useful." I'm fascinated by the way our minds work, and am always curious to (re)view a favorite text through someone else's lens. Sometimes it changes my opinion, sometimes it doesn't, but I'm able to make a sound judgment because I have made the effort to learn from the experience. To me, that's what it's all about.
 

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