Subjectivity

September 4, 2010
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Have you ever opened up to a page in The New Yorker to a poem whose significance completely eluded you? Of course, the display of one’s work on a page of The New Yorker would be the surest sign of success in any writer’s career, so we are naturally led to believe that whatever is published in their print must be “good”. But is this always so? Can the triumph or quality of a poem really be judged objectively? In essence, poetry is a form of art which, by definition, cannot be labeled, ranked, or interpreted by only one viewpoint. So by what criteria can we really judge this ever-mysterious outlet of emotive expression?
An increasingly prominent matter contributing to this doubt and uncertainty is the rise in the free-verse genre. It would almost seem as though the expanse of poetic license is ever-increasing as free-verse poetry becomes mainstream and the boxy structure of standard stanzas become trite. Many might dismiss the nonsensical stylings of free-verse as childish and irrelevant, while some are able to find a secret profundity beneath the letters, whether such a deeper meaning is present or not. Many are likely to feel just as dumbfounded when reading such a poem as I often feel when trying to contemplate an abstract piece of modern art. We are often left wondering: what talent or deep understanding of the craft did it take to produce this piece? Could a child not have just as easily created something comparable? We are often compelled to keep our doubts hushed lest we seem uneducated to those who have the capacity to be moved by a trail of red paint splotches on a canvas.
But there is where the subjectivity of interpretation comes into play. Does there really exist a capacity, a special skill for decoding poetry and art as if translating Hieroglyphics, or are we just led to believe so by the certainty in so many connoisseurs’ analyses?
I suppose the beauty of poetry, the unique and even mystical qualities that separate it from nonfiction writing, dwells in our freedom to see it as whatever our eyes would fancy it to be. Whether free-verse poetry is a masterpiece in disguise or simply an arbitrary assortment of virtually meaningless phrases remains an enigmatic subject for pondering.





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