Early in the school year, I walked into the CW classroom and was handed a printed-out copy of a poem. As the low buzz of conversation slowly faded, I skimmed through it, the seemingly incongruent words stirring my mind into panic. Before CW, the poetry I read had been simple and relaxing, easy to digest. I would read a poem or two in the evening, lulled by the fluidity of the words, comforted by them in a distant way. Poetry is abstract, I thought. When I wrote my own, I never went beyond the first draft because I liked the sound of the words. What I write, it doesn’t have to be intentional, I thought at the time. For me, poetry existed in a bubble that I was afraid to pop.
The poem we read, “Wren: Three Mirrors” by Michael Burkard, infuriated me at first—I could tell there was something I was missing as I annotated the poem, but whatever it was, it eluded me. The piece read more like a paragraph than a poem, and it switched rapidly from image to image, leaving me disoriented. “Like waking in the small room, looking out,” it began, “seeing the moon, almost down, through the pale/trees. So then the incompletion is waking…” It continued on like this, describing wings, mirrors, a woman, and finally ending with the bizarre words “I have/missed you like a donkey on fire, like a donkey.”
As we moved into a class discussion, though, I began to glean some understanding of the poet’s intentions. The poem didn’t let me walk away from it with only a distant reaction; it contradicted all the conventions I knew and soon had me scrutinizing every word.
I came to the conclusion that the confusing imagery had all been a distraction—the speaker, trying desperately to distract themselves from the woman described at the end of the poem, focused first on the small room, then the moon, then the trees, and so on. Like waking in the small room, they said. Not Waking in the small room or I woke in the small room, but Like waking, as if the poem’s speaker was comparing waking to something else, and the act of waking was just an illusion.
After frantically scribbling my theory down, I raised my hand to participate in the class discussion. It was the first time I had spoken up without stuttering over my words or trailing off, unsure of what point I was trying to get across. Now, the urge to have a complete, resounding idea of what a poem is trying to say is the norm for me. My annotations sometimes turn into full-fledged analyses, and at break time during arts block, my friends and I trade our takes on whatever poem we’re working on with one another. Surprisingly, this doesn’t feel like doing extra homework voluntarily; it doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s just the way I interact with poetry, popping the bubble and letting all the air in.