Here’s a poem that was first published in Poetry and all that Jazz last year. The title is meant to be ambiguous. I wanted to use the title to add a layer or layers of different potential interpretations. What decision, and who has made it? And does the ending refer to the decision itself or the narrators reaction to it? Is it a reaction to the Kestrel or the prey? Or is the whole poem a metaphor, not actually about a specific decision, but about something else entirely?
Or perhaps it has several meanings all at once? Who knows! Maybe attempted ambiguity in the title hasn’t worked anyway!
Whatever. Ambiguity can be useful, and interesting, and a lot of the best poetry is open to different interpretation. We see different things in poems based on our own life experiences and what we have previously read. I think this is one way in which poetry often differs from fiction. A certain looseness of meaning, where the reader has to do some work. But then that intention can develop to the point that the poem is, for most people, utter gibberish, where they can’t make sense of it at all. And isn’t all writing, whether it’s poetry or not, ultimately about communication?
Or doesn’t that actually matter? If the poem works for a small number or people, and is only intended to work for those whose knowledge, whether academically, culturally or linguistically, fits that of the writer, then isn’t that fine? The poem succeeds or fails within its own reference points and audience.
Does a poem even have to mean anything anyway? There are plenty of brilliant poems that don’t really have any meaning and are predominantly linguistic wordplay. And there are other, equally fantastic (and famous), poems that have one meaning and that meaning is absolutely crystal clear.
We can all provide examples of both.
Ultimately there is poetry out there for whatever you like – it doesn’t have to be difficult to understand, but if that’s what you like then fine. It can be formal, informal, structured or unstructured, and ambiguous or otherwise. Whatever style of poetry you enjoy reading, it’s out there. You just need to go out and find it.
Anyway, before I go round and round in circles, here’s the poem. Windhover, BTW, was an early colloquial name for a Kestrel.
After the Decision
Windhover perfectly poised
above a skittering mouse,
this scrag-land of nettles,
of life undefiled by progress.
A pair of feeding butterflies,
the nectar of so called weeds.
A bounding flight of sparrows,
from bush to hedge to trees.
And so the Kestrel stoops.
And in that single moment
where life and death coalesce
around heart’s tightening clench,
I corral all of my memories;
from such darkness a swoop of light.
First appeared in the Chichester Festival Poetry & All That Jazz Magazine in summer 2022
Incidentally, entries are now open for this year’s publication (deadline at the start of May)