The Reader Makes the Poem

A turn of phrase can unsettle when the poet goads words beyond their commonly agreed boundaries. When the impertinence works, the reader experiences a shocked flash of assent. Ah yes! I see why you write that she “whirls” her hoe. The poet has created a context which can make the act of whirling be right for a hoe. Perhaps it connotes a manic wielding of the tool whose blur is shared with whirling. Perhaps the context is that of a person in possible breakdown who flails irrationally at grievous loss.

When it doesn’t work, the reader fails to assent. He’s stuck haggling with “whirl,” unable to divorce the word’s weight in his mind from a sense of twirling something in a circle, unable to match the association with any conceivable handling of a hoe.

There’s no “right” response. The writer’s design is to stir the reader with words. The verse is the fact; the writer’s work is done. With the making of it his limits have been tested, his choices made. The rest belongs to the reader. When the reader is stirred, it’s poetry.

Off Interstate 20 / she whirls her hoe / the acreage now / a bedroom wall / a six foot / stand of weeds… / the house lost to / a lightening fire in / ‘68 and she / whirls her hoe / It lifts and / disappears / lifts / disappears / in the sun / in the moon / The relatives pass / at 70 yelling / GIVE IT UP BEATRICE / The weeds keep working / at that one / charred wall… [My bolding.]
(Charles Behlen, “Widow Zebach,” Dreaming at the Wheel, Corona Publishing Co., 1988, p. 31)

(c) 2023 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
This entry was posted in Anthology, Commentary and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Reader Makes the Poem

  1. The reader’s assent, that for me like the honey pot winnie the pooh always in search for. 🐝

    Liked by 1 person

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