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Understanding Poetry

By Dr. Marciene Mattleman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Most of us have friends who love to read and are intelligent, sensitive readers but simply “don’t get” poetry. It may be that they want the poem to have the kind of clear meaning that other kinds of writing have. But poetry doesn’t use language to give us information in that way.

Look at what happened to Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Early editors tried to change her wild style adding “proper” punctuation and sometimes even changing her words to make them rhyme. But once her strange syntax was restored, we can start to see that she was trying to show a way of using language, not information, to make us feel new things.

Far from the simple girl early readers saw, Emily Dickinson wanted words to make her feel “physically as if the top of my head were taken off.”

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