When I first started reading poetry for pleasure a couple of years ago, I found I really missed my English teachers holding my hand (figuratively) all the way, pulling out potential meanings and pointing out linguistic tricks and flair. Reading poetry is a bit difficult and can feel intimidating, especially if you're not familiar with poetic techniques.
An understanding of poetic techniques and traditions helps the reader to discover poems' meanings, but I would also say that you don't need to know all about poetic techniques to enjoy poetry. I think the most important thing to know is that your personal response to words and arrangements of words is valid and good, and while you might be interested in what the poet intended you to feel, it's equally fine to feel and think whatever you do about the poem. It's not an exam and there is no right answer, and it's also alright not to know what you think but to have a vague hunch you do/don't like it.
encourage more people to read poetry. So, every Tuesday I will post up a poem from an Emma Press book and begin the discussion with a few thoughts of my own. You are all welcome to add your thoughts in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter and via email: poemclub [at] theemmapress.com
The following Monday, I'll collate all the comments on this same page, so everyone can share each other's experiences of the poems, and the most thoughtful commenter will win a copy of the book. To kick things off, let me introduce you to the unique worldview of Ms. Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi...
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Don’t tell me about my roots
or my life before this
Don’t tell me about my unopened buds
I was born before you
so much older than you
but still I keep my colour
that you called pain eraser
that I called monument of the ripped
Something that you named maidenhead
for me it is virginity
for me it is the boring lacuna –
what on Earth happens without friction?
I have had intercourse so many times with my past
I remember on Sunday morning
big snails and slugs were vined on my buds
with pleasure that resonated
They ate my corps
one by one
but my roots, not.
— by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi, from her debut pamphlet Ikhda, by Ikhda.
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Emma's thoughts. I love the aggression of this poem. It begins with a barrage of snippy commands, then becomes devastatingly caustic, and ends hilariously ('Mmh/ Mmh / Mmh') but also powerfully. My personal response to this poem is that the speaker is a woman, addressing her patronising older lover or even parent. For me, it's a defiant, furious retort to assumptions about female frailty, and I love it.
I find some of the images and phrases in the poem a little baffling, but the emotion is so urgent that some meaning emerges anyway. Is 'my colour' a youthful blush which the addressee finds soothing ('pain eraser'), much to the annoyance of the speaker? What does 'what on Earth happens without friction' mean?
Your thoughts. Thank you to everyone who participated this week! I'm glad you all enjoyed reading the poem and I was really pleased with the responses we received, ranging from the literal (J Humble offered: 'To me, this is the age old question [...] of how to solve the problems of mollusc infestation in the garden.') to some wider speculation on the meaning and power of the poem.
Charles Bane Jr. found a spiritual dimension in the poem's forceful energy, seeing it as a kind of feminist gospel and picking up on the semantics in the third stanza. He emailed: 'Feminist poetry has no support from institutionalised faith, so its new spirit is found in intimacy, and a faith that will be kept with other women, whose bodies have been devoured by misogyny, but not their will. This is an important poem. Shakespeare used the word 'maidenhead', always in bombast. He couldn't recognise the brutal experience behind the word. 'Lys' is not merry; it's brutal. But it's true. And if men would only read more like it , they themselves would find the way to escape their own bonds.'
Charles's reading of the poem chimes quite a lot with my own, while Laura in the comments below and Sarah Parkinson via email read the poem in a more political way, focusing especially on the word 'roots'. Laura said: 'I think the difference between the speaker and the addressee is more of a cultural or ethnic than age/gender nature. She (I assume it's a she) doesn't want to be told about her roots, thoughts, or sexual life by someone who presumably doesn't know much about her. The speaker's defiant: stop saying you know anything about me – it's all based on nothing but assumptions – my life and experiences are so much richer than you think.'
Sarah Parkinson said: 'It took me two readings to realise that I read it as a refugee speaking to a government official, perhaps fleeing from violence/sexual aggression. The raw anger woven through the sexual imagery seems to issue from both her previous experiences and the inability/arrogance of the listener to understand them. I wonder if the 'buds', as well as having sexual overtones, relate to her inability to achieve personhood because of the constant tension of conflict – that is, who she is has been unable to develop and flourish because of her immediate needs of safety and security. At the end it's almost as though she is allowing herself to be subsumed under her previous experiences, but the last line speaks of tenacity, leaves me with a sense that all might not quite be over. It's full of very powerful imagery – I can't believe how much I read into it!'
This week, I hereby decree Sarah Parkinson wins a copy of Ikhda, by Ikhda!
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|Ikhda, by Ikhda|
--> POEM CLUB #2: 'The Smell of Apples', by Richard O'Brien