Okay, I haven’t tackled one of these poetry workshops in a while, so let’s look at a poem from Khara House. Here the original draft:
Our daily bread, by Khara E. House
Pull one thread to unravel a sweater–
one thing leads to another.
Hansel and Gretel scatter breadcrumb path–
come the birds, eat the crumbs,
lead the children to house of bread.
Crumbs devoured by greedy birds–
Swallowing safe passage home?
Providential path to bread and pearls?
Are these birds St. Peter or Judas?
Two disciples reclining against ten,
both devouring the flesh and blood–
Upon whose flesh may the birds descend?
Hansel locked in a birdcage,
leave Gretel to cry tears of blood.
Bread, crumb, bird, cage–
one thing leads to another.
Bread of life hangs from a tree–
Traitor hangs from a tree–
Water of life spills from his side–
Water falls from Peter’s eyes–
Blood and prayer,
oven hot for baking bread–
leading children home on backs of birds.
Okay, there are elements of this poem I truly adore, including the opening stanza. But then, I get kind of lost on the references to Hansel and Gretel, traitor hanging from a tree, the involvement of the birds, and Peter’s eyes. I don’t think poems should have to spell things out, but I start to get the feeling that this poem is written for people who already understand and can connect with the allusions in this poem. While this can be fine, it should be noted that poems that rely solely on allusions run the risk of having a severely limited audience.
For instance, I know the basics of the Hansel and Gretel story (as do most), but this poem seems to dive to a level of which I’m not familiar. So while I love the opening stanza and even liked seeing Hansel and Gretel cited in the second stanza, I left the poem feeling like I needed to do extensive research if I wanted to appreciate this poem. This will probably cause debate, but I feel poems should offer some sort of self-contained surface value with the ability to dive deeper if a reader wishes.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Get more specific. Re-tell the story of Hansel and Gretel with specific plot points. This poem alludes to things happening, but it doesn’t share specifics, which would go a long way in clarifying for the reader.
- Play with sound in this poem. I think one of the things I loved about the first stanza was the sounds in it. The meaning wasn’t even my primary concern. Maybe this is a way to make allusions while still providing an appealing “first read” poem.
A few quick notes, because I’m sure there will be debate:
- I do love layering in a poem. However, I think the “first read” has to be appealing or readers aren’t likely going to come back for the deeper research. After all, there are too many great poems out there already.
- Alluding to other sources in poetry is fine too. Here again, though, a poet should realize that using this technique will do two things: 1. It will probably limit your audience to people who already “get your reference,” and 2. it will likely create an obstacle for readers who don’t “get your reference.” Plus, your poem may become a target for people who do “get your reference.” (Think comic and book fanatics who tear down movie adaptations that are not TRUE enough to the original.)
All of this said, I love the writing from Khara House. She writes great poetry, and I’m so happy that she shared her writing in the Poetic Asides poetry workshop. I encourage others to throw in their two cents in the Comments below, especially if you disagree with my comments above or have something additional to add.
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