Feb 20, 2018

Learning To Read Pt 6 (Metaphor and The Descent into Sub-Text)

A poem is not always what it seems. There is the apparent story - the text. And the thing we are not talking about when we talk about the story - sub-text.

In this way our conversation between reader and writer can get dangerous. 

and the way to bridge that gap is - metaphor


this is a series about understanding and improving our ability to write through my experience of becoming a reader. check out parts 1-5 on this page


When I was young-er and a not so avid reader in middle school we read a poem about blueberries - I've tried to find it but haven't - and I remember it was about blueberries cause I got into an argument with my teacher that went something like this:

teacher - what do you think the poem was about?

me - blueberries

teacher - but what else was it about? maybe the blueberries were a way to talk about something else...

me - why can't a poem just be about blueberries?

teacher - *sigh

Now, I'm sure the poem was about more than blueberries and I'm also sure if I was older than 10 I might have been able to think more critically about blueberries. 

The truth is trying to define sub-text is tricky even now. There is not one answer that works for every reader or writer. Every one can and will read into a poem differently but that's not a problem younger me failed to grasp:

What my younger self failed to understand was the metaphor of the blueberries, or if I remember correctly, picking blueberries. That is, the act of picking blueberries was the subject of the text, and the rail into which I could have begun to descend into the author's sub-text. 

The poet chose blueberries out of all the fruits or vegetables that they could talk about and why can give us a clue about the poem is really about when we talk about blueberries. Maybe they picked blueberries because it was a real life experience, so blueberries was a historical choice, but this would lead us to possible sub-texts like nostalgia, family, youth, nature, innocence, etc. Or maybe blueberry picking is regional and the sub-text can wonder into class, race, gender, history, occupational, etc. Or maybe the blueberry is representative of something bigger like a person, or relationship, or a nation, or a people. 

teacher - so what is the poem about?

This would all be easier if I remembered the rest of the poem, but like I said the metaphor is just the handrail for the descent into the sub-text, not the sub-text itself. So any poem can be read in these different ways and they are not more or less valid just more thoughtful.

younger me - blueberries

me - all I remember are the blueberries

teacher - *sigh