Strangling Verse

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"But all they want to do/ Is tie the poem to a chair with rope/ and torture a confession out of it" (Collins 74, Introduction to  Poetry)

This stanza earned a bark of laughter, I have to admit.  It's so true, especially with English majors, people never allow themselves to enjoy a poem.  Every line has a meaning, and it is our job to find out what that meaning is.  The diction may be delightful, the alliteration, alluring, and the imagery picture-perfect, but we can't relish in those aspects of the poem until we find out what it means.  I admit to shying away from certain poets because their poems are over my head.  After all, when you admit to liking a poem, the people who are privy to your confession will expect you to be able to tell them what the poet's saying.  It would be nice, if even for a second, we could let the words wash over us and love the language for what it is, not what it may be.

**Collins is an expert at parodying anything and everything.  The Sonnet (77) is a good example of this, but for further reading I would suggest Litany and The Lanyard. 

 (There are also videos of Collins reading his work on Youtube, if that's more your style.)

9 Comments

Jessica Orlowski said:

Josie, I enjoyed that line, too. I actually laughed out loud. I've also seen lately that people have become lazy when it comes to poetry... You're right. All they want is for you to analyze it FOR them. I'm afraid that this is what I'm going to encounter in the world of teaching. Anyway I think that, in this poem, Collins is referring to the laziness of students in school (was he a teacher?). If you'll notice, each of the stanzas before lines 12-14 are active. They involve moving, perhaps indicating that analyzing poetry is hard work and involves activity. In these lines, however,Collins indicates that analyzing poetry has become stationary.

Melissa Schwenk said:

You basically stated why I dislike poetry, because you have to be able to understand what the poem means in order to like it. Also, I like the suggestions you gave for other Collins poems. The lanyard one was pretty comical.

Kayla Lesko said:

I think everyone enjoyed that line. I really don't see the point in trying to figure out the meaning of every poem we read.

I'll have to check out his other poems.

I'm rather wishy-washy when it comes to poem analysis, which I admitted in my blog about this poem. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I find it pointless.

I could do it with the line you included: Why rope? Why not handcuffs? Ropes are more vulnerable than handcuffs, so maybe Collins is trying to say that the poem itself is vulnerable to the reader's scrutiny if it can be contained merely with rope.

However, I don't think that's actually true. Sometimes, there's a point when Occam's Razor is not only crossed, but completely obliterated. I think that is too often the case when it comes to poetry analysis.

Josie Rush said:

Jessica- Good catch with the active voice. I wondered, too, and looked it up. Collins apparently is involved in several poetry workshops (no surprise), and has taught at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, and Lehman College. There may be a couple I missed, but the gist of it is, yes, it seems this poem has some experience behind it.
How frustrating would it be, I wonder, to be a Poet Laureate, and have to listen to students tear apart your work?
Melissa- The Lanyard is definitely one of my favorites. I'm glad you liked it.

Carissa Altizer said:

This was by far my favorite line of the poem. I think Collins is asking readers to do exactly the opposite of what we're doing right now by even discussing it. He wants readers to take a book of poetry to bed and enjoy the rhythm and sweet words before they fall asleep...not with a pencil and notebook in hand during an English class. He is encouraging readers to stop worrying that poetry is only for elite readers. I think he's telling literary critics to put down their pencils and shut up the keyboards. Leave this poem alone, resist the temptation to analyze it. Just enjoy it for what it is.

Josie Rush said:

I definitely agree that Collins is trying to contradict the idea that poetry is only for "elite readers" (I really liked the way you put that, Carissa). However, I think that discussion can be an enjoyable part of poetry, as long as we don't get too demanding. I love listening to someone say, "this line really moved me" and then hear them explain why. It doesn't have to be too academic for me to appreciate the reasoning.
Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with analyzing poetry, I'm not even sure that's precisely what Collins is demeaning. I think what he's saying that if we approach the poem solely to gain its meaning (and not for ourselves, but for an outside influence, like school or colleagues), then we lose a beautiful part of poetry.

Josie: You're right. He's not saying there's anything wrong with the analysis of poetry. That was my first impression, I think. However, he *is* saying that you shouldn't have to force a meaning out of the poem. You need to let it speak to you. It's like reading one of Sylvia Plath's poems; each line can have countless different meanings. Torturing the poem to reveal the true meaning, the one Plath thought of while writing, will do nothing for the reader. Actually, I think that once a poet publishes or shares her work, it matters less what she thought when writing it than what the reader thinks while reading it. All interpretations are correct based on the interpreter.

Josie Rush said:

Karyssa-- Yes! I totally agree with that. Analyzing poetry is definitely subjective work, and the reader eventually becomes as important as the writer when it comes to interpretation. My favorite English teacher in high school always used to say, "If you're reading poetry, you can get almost anything from it, but you can't get chocolate icecream," meaning the only thing you can't do is come up with something completely unfounded. It kills me when someone says what they think a poem is about (and textually support their claim), and another person corrects them. This is the kind of thing that makes poetry unenjoyable for others, and makes ppl think there's an elite class of ppl who are meant to read and enjoy it. So not true.

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Josie Rush on Strangling Verse: Karyssa-- Yes! I totally agree
Karyssa Blair on Strangling Verse: Josie: You're right. He's not
Josie Rush on Strangling Verse: I definitely agree that Collin
Carissa Altizer on Strangling Verse: This was by far my favorite li
Josie Rush on Strangling Verse: Jessica- Good catch with the a
Karyssa Blair on Strangling Verse: I'm rather wishy-washy when it
Kayla Lesko on Strangling Verse: I think everyone enjoyed that
Melissa Schwenk on Strangling Verse: You basically stated why I dis
Jessica Orlowski on Strangling Verse: Josie, I enjoyed that line, to