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Vegemite, Shrimp Paste, And Poetry

Understandably, poetry is loathsome, but like vegemite from down under and fermented shrimp paste from Asia, poetry has its saving graces. It is normal for people to hate poetry because it is so complicated and so difficult to comprehend; add to this is the fact that with many forms of expression available nowadays, poets seem to be indifferent and snotty-nosed to still choose poetry as their creative means of expression even when only very few people would read poetry over looking at a painting or reading a good novel.

For many people poetry is a perennial pain in the head that has been around for centuries and does not seem to show signs of disappearing. College students who are required to study poetry find it quite uninteresting because of the long-haired windedness and complexities required in appreciating it, to begin with. The position of many regarding poetry is not at all strange or abnormal because poetry is an acquired taste, like steak tartar and sashimi. With many other alternatives available one would more like stay away from poetry as a means of expression or as a means of comprehending another’s deepest emotions.

Nevertheless, like giving sashimi and vegemite a taste, one should venture into considering poetry because like all these other food items, when one begins to appreciate poetry, one will most likely look for it in the future and get hooked. Poetry can be very likable because it contains hidden meanings like the more interesting clues in a detective story, it is able to convey deeper emotions aside from the abstractions that one is used to, and it is able to leave the reader more enlightened and refreshed to know that abstract emotions can in fact become tangible little pieces of art.

Clues are natural to poetry, just as they are in detective stories and crime movies. The question of ‘whodunit? ’ in popular detective and mystery stories translates into, ‘what is it all about? ’ in poetry. This is so because in poetry, the poet does not state but suggests. This means that like in mystery stories, poets leave clues along the way for the reader to decipher and while the act of deciphering may at first seem ‘unappetizing’ when one is able to unlock the secrets hidden in poetry, one will marvel at the expertise of the poet and at how he/she was able to conceal certain things in a span of a few words.

Poets do this with the use of what is known as figurative language. This kind of language includes metaphors, symbols, ironies, and other complicated tools that the ordinary poetry aficionado should know something about but is not required to understand fully; but once a reader of poetry discovers the beauty of how these devices are used in a poem, one cannot help but learn more about these things.

The satisfaction that one gets from discovering the concealed meanings in poetry is kind of like the satisfaction experienced after accomplishing a crossword or a Sudoku puzzle because the degree of difficulty presents a challenge, and so the conquest of such a challenge creates in the person a sense of achievement and joy. To understand this feeling better it is best to consider one of the more simple poems of Emily Dickinson, titled “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass”. At first, when one reads this particular poem one would easily conclude that it is just a series of insignificant ramblings and descriptions.

However, when one pays careful attention to the words used in each of the lines and considers these as clues to something, a different picture emerges. For instance, in the first few lines, “A narrow fellow in the grass / Occasionally rides;… The grass divides as with a comb, / A spotted shaft is seen;” (1-2, 5-6) one begins to question what or who is it that is a ‘narrow fellow’. The curiosity acquired in the first two lines allows the reader to pursue the poem further until the next clues are reached which are that this fellow is able to divide the grass like a comb divides hair and this same fellow has a spotted shaft.

So, putting these things together, one gets the image of a long creature that parts the grass and has spots – what else could this be but a snake? So, as illustrated in these first few lines, the fragmented and almost incomprehensible descriptions or clues when put together actually describe something quite familiar to the reader. The experience is kind of like picking out words from a jumbled collection of such, putting these together and realizing that the seemingly insignificant plethora of words actually represents something very close to home.

Then going forward in the poem, more clues are offered, as in the lines, “He likes a boggy acre, A floor too cool for corn. ”; (9-10) which describes the habitat of the snake to be cold and wet, and “When, stooping to secure it, / It wrinkled, and was gone. ” (15-16) which very accurately describes how the snake would react to attempts at catching it; it would quickly ripple away as its body would seem like it is wrinkling when in fact it is making its escape.

So, in these few lines of poetry, one can already appreciate how the matter of imagery and description works to create clues as to what the poet is actually talking about in the poem. This is only part of the appeal in poetry because other than just offering visual clues, poetry also gives the reader another, more insightful level, and that is the conveyance of emotions much deeper than would normally be perceived. Poetry is able to take the reader through an experience where death is not just death but an exercise in existence; where love, is not just love, but a “Red, red rose” or the fragile tips of butterfly wings.

Emotions are just the raw material for poetry and very good poets can take these abstract emotions and present them in ways that have never been done before. After all, the creativity of each poet is judged by how new or how original one overused theme or subject is presented. This is the reason why poets often seek varied and more innovative ways of presenting their subjects to the readers because otherwise people will no longer read their work. A reader is offered a whole new experience from one poem to another in that the poet is able to convey a particular emotion in a very different way every time.

This experience is what many poetry aficionados are after because this allows the reader a glimpse into the mind and the heart of the poet. This intimacy between the reader and the poet is what makes a good poem and so, most of the interest in poetry comes from the fact that the reader is able to understand the poet more through his/her poetry and the way the poet conveys his/her emotions to the reader by the expert and quite innovative use of words. Again, for this claim, Dickinson’s poem would be the simplest and most effective example.

In the lines, “Several of nature’s people / I know, and they know me; / I feel for them a transport / Of cordiality;” (17-20) one would initially think that the poet is talking about some sentient being, such as man, by referring to the subject of the poem as ‘people’; but going back to the earlier lines where it is established that the poet is in fact writing about a snake, one would see the degree of emotions required for the poet to refer to the snake as a person.

In these lines, one would also notice that the poet offers a description of her relationship with the snake as she states that nature’s people know her and she knows them as well and at the end of these lines the poet maintains that she has a cordial relationship with these creatures. While this could be strange perceived, reading through the lines, one would actually notice that the speaker in the poem is expressing a deeper form of respect for the snake by referring to it as a person, and by indicating that she in fact, has a mutual understanding with the creature.

So, other than just saying that the poet respects the snake, the poet says this in a way that the respect referred to goes beyond just the superficial kind of respect that one is used to. In another line from the poem, this multi-layered conveyance of emotions is further demonstrated, this line is: But never met this fellow, Attended or alone, Without a tighter breathing, / And zero at the bone. (21-24) where the poet actually expresses fear upon chancing upon the snake, but what kind of fear? This question now allows the concealed layer of that fear to be revealed as one pays more attention to the lines.

These lines indicate that the poet experiences an emotion where her breathing becomes tighter and her bones do not seem to exist. So, if one was to imagine the kind of fear where breathing becomes affected and the knees buckle because of an intense feeling then one would easily understand that the poet was experiencing great fear when witnessing the snake. So, obviously, while the speaker in the poem could just have said that she was afraid, she chose to describe the experience more vividly to convey the emotion more effectively.

When one states something, the statement is final, but when one suggests by using certain elements of what is being suggested, the reader is given the leeway to interpret what is being suggested based on his/her own experiences and as a result, deepens the experience offered in poetry and makes the conveyance of messages and emotions more of a participative and sympathetic experience. This leads one to the final element that makes poetry interesting, and that is the fact that poetry in general can make a fleeting experience or an intangible experience more accessible and material to the reader.

Poetry is able to concretize or materialize things that would otherwise remain ambiguous if not for the expert handing of the poet of the material. This means that, love, for instance, cannot be explained or touched, but in a poet’s hands, love can become an eternally flowing river or the pain of love can be the sharp prick of a flower’s thorn. This tangibility of abstract emotions or ideas is achieved by the poet by taking a familiar or existing representation and using this to approximate what the poet feels, so that the reader, upon reading the poem, will mentally recreate the experience based on the concrete approximation.

For example, still in the same poem, Dickinson writes, “Yet when a child, and barefoot, / I more than once, at morn, // Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash / Unbraiding in the sun,–“(11-14) Here, the poet uses the familiar image of an unraveled whip under the sun. This image is very familiar to anybody who has seen a whip, but with the knowledge that the apparent whip is in fact a snake, the poet conveys the emotion of uncertainty, that one day, one might come across what seems like a whip but is actually a snake.

So, as a result, the poet is able to accurately convey the exact same feeling that she was experiencing at the time that she witnessed the snake. In effect, the insight gained by the reader is such that the same emotions are accurately recreated whether in the mind or the heart of the reader enabling what is known as a moment of ‘epiphany’ or realization for the reader which would otherwise be impossible had the poet not used a concrete image to approximate the experience.

So, apparently, there is no reason to hate poetry as much as one hates a lifelong foe, because most of the time, vegemite eaten with a piece of bread or shrimp paste in some oriental noodle dish is not so bad after all. All these elements simply show that because poetry is quite interesting in the clues that it contains, in the multi-layered emotions that it presents, and in the insightful and innovative treatment it offers in presenting abstractions and ambiguities, it is in fact something that, like vegemite and shrimp paste, should be given a chance.

Poetry appreciation is often like saying “Try it, and you’ll like it! ” or “When you pop, you can’t stop! ”. References Dickinson, E. (2008). A Narrow Fellow in the Grass. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from http://www. google. com. ph/#hl=tl&q=poetry+of+emily+dickinson&meta=&aq=f&aqi =g1&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&fp=f970d35aa3d3d5e9

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