What is Reserved for the Poet?

Recently, at a gathering we call ModPo South, some of my smartest friends gathered to discuss poetry, among other things. We had previously selected Frank O’Hara to be the poet to discuss and it had gone rather well, so the question was raised as to who we should pick for our next meeting. As I had just handed out a copy of my most recent self-published chapbook, Sometimes California, or the March Set, someone suggested, in half jest (or maybe three quarters), that we study and discuss my poetry.

I responded sincerely that I was flattered but I didn’t think my poetry was the kind that lends itself to a close read. We quickly moved on to Naomi Replansky, as we had touched on her because of Arif’s participation of a close read for ModPo Plus of her most recent and “last” poem. I was most happy to yield to Naomi, but I was left with two questions, for which I have no idea the answer, and hope someone reading this will offer one, or two.

  • To anyone who has read any of my poetry. I don’t think my poetry is deep enough to dive into. (If you haven’t read any of my stuff, there is plenty on the internet, and some of it is collected at https://anthonyuplandpoetwatkins.wordpress.com/) Can a poem be too shallow to close read? How do you know if it is?


  • Should a poet, who has already had first crack at writing the poem and therefore owns all the words in the poem, be allowed to contribute to a close read? Should their inspiration, their intention be given any weight, or is the point of a close read to expand the poem into the readers’ minds? I have noticed plenty of times when I hear someone discussing one of my poems they find meanings and depth that I either never intended or intended on such a subconscious level I THOUGHT I never intended that meaning or reference!


I have always approached poetry, first from a writer’s perspective, my own, and then secondarily, and far down the road, thought of it from a reader’s perspective. Unlike some poets, I do write 100% of my poetry for public consumption. If it isn’t read, in my mind, it isn’t written, yet, at least not on a conscious level, I don’t write it FOR the reader. I write it as I feel a must capture a “thing” even if that thing is just the feeling of 7:30 air on your skin on a warm-going-to- hot spring day and the sun is setting and some of the heat is leaving the earth. I write to hold that experience as a thing in my mind. Then as soon as I write it, just as I will with this non-poetic piece, I will rush to publish it and promote a dozen places. Never seeing that that air means more than what it thought it meant to me. Again, I really would appreciate some answers, because I don’t have an inkling.


3 thoughts on “What is Reserved for the Poet?”

  1. Ditto on writing a poem to hold something in your(my) mind. Much of what I’ve written over the past 45 years took most of my present age to realize that my “work” meant so much more to me than than anyone else. Even some of my earliest published pieces (from way before the internet) still feel like the breath I took before I wrote about, but by & large those ideas never fulfilled their potential. The more I read poetry, the more it appears that sheer proliferation is not necesssarily a force deserving sustenance. This I write at the risk of exhibiting curmudgeonly prejudice, but the poet I have found myself to be really does not care. Writing is a craft that, without discipline (e.g., meter), substance (what the poem is) or purpose (a line breaks where it does because…), it is a journaling exercise in an overcrowded notebook. Because I chose to answer your request for comments, this reply is for YOU (I.e., not a poem for me). And finally, please do not stop what you write. Ever. Thanks!

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