Poem Dissection 101


Via bubbl.us, via Never Neutral.

Poem dissection, like frog dissection, isn’t as straightforward as it may at first appear. Take, for example, Matsuo Basho’s famous haiku about a frog. Are the relationships between the ideas in the poem generative, associative, or a mixture of both? Here are two possible ways to map them, which strike me as equally valid.

So obviously with longer poems, many of the routes become quite arbitrary indeed.

bubbl.us diagram of a poem
Click the image to see a larger and more legible version.

The best I can say about this exercise is that it helped me discover a relationship between two ideas in the poem that I hadn’t consciously recognized, the one between ‘it wants to go home with you’ and ‘there are no motels in this vacancy.’ Whether this will be of any real use to me if/when I get around to revising the poem, I don’t know, but in general I do find that, while the intuitive mind ought to be paramount during the original drafting, the analytical mind should take over during editing and revision. So as far as the author is concerned, this sort of exercise can’t hurt, even if it looks like a bloody mess to everyone else.

Posted in ,
Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

8 Comments


  1. I just looked at my company org chart and it turns out it’s actually a Delmore Schwartz poem.

    Reply

  2. Cool! You are so right. And what I’m working on, by the way, is that these “maps” are nothing but comics, which in turn are really like poems. I loved your post. Thanks for the shout out!

    Reply

  3. Chris – Plop!

    Sven – Delmore Schwartz, eh? That could be good or bad.

    Ernesto – Ah, so that’s the comics connection! Makes sense to me.

    Reply

  4. It does look like a bloody mess, Dave! But a useful tool, I think… I often use the mapping technique with my remedial reading students to help them learn to make those connections between ideas that so challenge poor readers.

    I don’t know that I would ever dare to map a poem, though.

    Reply

  5. Laura – I should think it would actually be easier with poems than with other forms of discourse, maybe. I mean, what is a poem if not optimally clear writing? Except for poems that are deliberately obscure or functionally meaningless, of course (such as the stuff that these whackjobs put out).

    Reply

Leave a Reply