The Puzzles in Poetry


How do you like your poetry?

Do you want the meaning to be apparent after the first reading, or do you prefer to be teased and let the poem unfold, piece by piece, to be savoured over time?

Alan Bennett in his book Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin states “Obviously, any poem repays study, but if it is only to be heard once and without detailed exposition, then a poem should be understandable at first hearing.”

The French poet and critic Stéphane Mallarmé took the position that three quarters of the enjoyment in poetry lay in discovering, little by little, what it means. The intrinsic part of poetry’s pleasure is to able to unravel difficulties and to solve puzzles.

I’m sat on the fence with this one and it is dependent on the mood I’m in at the time. Some days I want the poem to deliver a quick hit of emotion and dopamine and have little resistance in working out its meaning. On other days, I want to hone my detective skills and trawl through the poem, word by word, gathering each clue and solving the mystery in typical Poirot style.

It is the same when I write poetry. With some poems, I like the meaning to be obvious and allow the reader to take it away and play with it. With others, I want to create carnage, teasing the reader, leaving small clues scattered around the crime scene; taking them down blind alleys to avoid detection, but eventually allowing them the euphoria of solving the crime.

Do you have a view on the puzzles in poetry? I would love you to share it.


Very interesting post Davy. It reminds of my earlier posts where I talked about the ambiguity that poetry often brings. I personally prefer some hidden mystery that poetry opens in my thinking and I like to have my own interpretation-more than what ‘poet really wanted to say’. Hence I do enjoy some meditative poetry from Jane Hirshfield that is also often straightforward and explicit.

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What triggers the imagination usually governs my approach, Davy, although, on occasion, I surprise myself by writing a more ‘serious’ poem than had been my original intention. Flippant verses are a joy to write and often tumble onto the page with ease. These are, for me at any rate, usually, but not always, just time-fillers, amusing asides, as are many of the exercises one sets oneself to write in a particular style or form. I do seek after producing something profound, couched in beautiful language, with many layers of meaning to release their sense only over time, but that is something I certainly have not yet accomplished to my own satisfaction.

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    Thank you for this excellent insight into your poetry mind Roland. As writers of poetry do we ever get to the point where we are satisfied? I am always looking at poems I’ve written and see changes I could make but I think our perspectives change over time. You are right in that practicing varying forms of poetry does help in developing the craft. Thank you for you response.

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I love a piece of poetry where in its meaning unfolds slowly as i read them again.. i am the type of reader who loves to be teased., i get bored when i read poems with meaning literally being served unto you like a hot bowl of soup..

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This will sound so awful, even lazy, but…I just don’t have time and energy to play detective when reading WP poetry. And I try hard to avoid obscure lines as I write my own–thinking that I want to keep the small handful of lovely readers I have, and not wear out their brains working to “read me” 🙂

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Mystery or plain as day, I enjoy poetry that is simply powerful. I’m a first time blogger so I haven’t read many of your posts, but if you haven’t heard of Anis Mojgani, look him up! He has the power element I’m talking about. His poems “Here I Am” and “Shake the Dust” and many many more are brilliant!

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Another interesting post, D! general, my pieces depend on my mood (or my muse). There are days or certain themes that you just can’t help but deliver a quick hit of emotion, as you’ve said. Although I rarely blend mystery into my poems (at least not intentionally… and I’m not very good at it), there are poems that I want to slowly unfold and let the gist explode in the very end.

One thing I am continuously amazed though is the fact that we all have different perspective. And these perspectives, I learned, are very helpful. I’ve written pieces that seemed like a one lane road yet a fellow blogger presented a different possible angle of looking at it. It’s always fun. 🙂

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    Thanks for your insightful response Maria. I agree with you in that when someone finds something different in a poem you have written it brings great pleasure. I think when we write poetry we are unravelling mysteries in the first instance and sometimes I don’t know where the poem is going. It develops over time and ends up somewhere completely different.

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I like them playful, teasing, a little obscure, and challenging me.

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I just write poetry because it is a fun and playful way to express how I feel. Never thought much about the element of mystery or building up a crescendo till the final explosive line. Although I do like to take extra time with the ending, I think it’s very important in tying the whole piece together. Thanks for such great food for thought! As always.

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Another thought-provoking post, Davy. I think I wrote pieces with a burst of emotion or an idea flow. So i think most of my poems are kind of blunt? (I would love to know if you will agree with me or not. :)) Like they are mostly straight forward. But I do write some that are like puzzles. 🙂 Like a sudden twist at the last line or a sudden revelation. 🙂

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I am with you. It depends on my mood and the subject I am talking about. There are times when the subject is stated in the first couple of lines so that the reader can immediately connect. Then, as the poem continues, I bring new ideas or perspectives on the matter. Other times, I enjoy drawing it out and giving a twist to what I am writing about.

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When I read a poem the first thing I respond to is the rythym. Then I usually have some sort of visual response, imaging a place or a scene or a person. Then I tend to look back at certain lines, the ones that spoke to me, or rang with power, or dripped eloquence. I guess I’m looking for the bit that makes me think “Ooh, that’s nice!”

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Reblogged this on Creative Writing Reblogged.


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