Don't Be Afraid--I Mean You No Harm
by Tina Blue
I want to make something absolutely clear to those who read my articles on poetry. You do not need to know diddly-squat about the technical terminology of literary criticism to read my articles. I am not writing for those who have such expertise, but specifically for those who do not, though critics are certainly welcome to read my articles if they want to. I feel it is absurd to "teach" anything without starting at the beginning--i.e., where your students are.
I will not write "down" to you. In other words, I will not write simplistically. Whether or not you are familiar with the terminology employed by literary critics, you are as capable as anyone of understanding subtle matters of language and meaning, and you can easily look up words if you are not familiar with them.
When I use a word or phrase that sounds technical, look again. It probably is not meant in a technical sense at all, but rather in a perfectly normal sense. For example, when describing the language in Rebecca Henry Lowndes' "Song for a Seeker," I referred to the "archaic flavor" of her language, and I also mentioned that certain phrases have a "preponderance of similar phonemes." Admittedly, these phrase look like they might be technical, but they really aren't. By "archaic flavor," I meant only that her language in that poem has an antique "once upon a time" or "long ago" quality. "Phoneme" means a single sound unit. But most of you probably already know that. Nothing in those phrases is technical or specific to the analysis of literature.
Please, do not feel intimidated by literary analysis. Unfortunately, really lousy teaching in literature classes all over the country has convinced intelligent, sensitive readers that they are not competent to "analyze" literature--especially poetry. Nothing could be less true. Certainly there are things that can be seen by one who has studied literature in a technical sense, but I would always trust the instincts of a talented poet with no critical background over those of a well-trained critic with no poetry in his soul. (There are more such critics than you would like to know about!)
When I say that a poet must "study" his art, I don't mean in the technical sense, though learning that stuff can help. (It can hurt, too, if the poet is not careful!) What I mean is that a poet should immerse himself in the work of the masters, so that he absorbs their style through constant exposure and examination, not to imitate it, but to learn from it.
Don't let critics snow you with jargon. They have stolen poetry away from real people for too long. If there is ever
anything in one of my poetry articles that you don't understand, e-mail me about it and I will gladly explain it to you. Don't be shy or embarrassed.
There's so much that I don't understand in so many subjects, and so many people have come to my aid to help me learn. But I would never have gotten their help if I had been embarrassed about not understanding something.
If I have written something impenetrable in one of the articles for this column, I should be embarrassed--not the reader who did not understand it. After all, I am supposed to be a teacher. What kind of teacher am I if I am writing stuff people can't make sense out of?
Ask me to explain anything that I have not made clear. I will always be glad to do so.