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Introduction to Poetry

Billy Collins asks to play with poetry and its words as we read it. Let the poem speak to us and we do not have to beat it with a hose to find out what it really means. I find that each time I return to a poem I find something that eluded me the other times. Maybe it was the mouse trying to find its way out or the waterskiier waving at the poet’s name.

Hermeneutic phenomenology is much like that, as well. When I interviewed each person for my dissertation the first time, they hesitated in telling their stories. The second time, they each began recounting their stories from the first interview.

Paul Ricoeur said hermeneutics is digging below the surface of our stories to find what the text of our lives tells us. I recount the story in poetic, fictive language and understand each time I (re)member the story differently.

“Differences make a difference,” as I am mindful to different aspects of the story and me as a character in that story. I cannot beat the meaning out with a hose.

I ask them to take a poem

and hold it up to the light

like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem

and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room

and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski

across the surface of a poem

waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with rope

and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose

to find out what it really means.



About ivonprefontaine

In keeping with bell hooks and Noam Chomsky, I consider myself a public and dissident intellectual. Part of my work is to move beyond (transcend) institutional dogmas that bind me to defend freedom, raising my voice to be heard on behalf of those who seek equity and justice in all their forms. I completed my PhD in Philosophy of Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA. My dissertation and research was how teachers experience becoming teachers and their role as leaders. I focus on leading, communicating, and innovating in organizations. This includes mindfuful servant-leadership, World Cafe events, Appreciative Inquiry, and expressing one's self through creativity. I offer retreats, workshops, and presentations that can be tailored to your organzations specific needs. I published peer reviewed articles about schools as learning organizations, currere as an ethical pursuit, and hope as an essential element of adult eductaion. I published three poems and am currently preparing my poetry to publish as an anthology of poetry. I present on mindful leadership, servant leadership, schools as learning organizations, how teachers experience becoming teachers, assessement, and critical thinking. I facilitate mindfulness, hospitality retreats. and World Cafe Events using Appreciative Inquiry. I am writing and researching about various forms of leadership, how teachers inform and form their identity as a particular teacher, schools as learning organizations, hope and its anticipatory relationship with the future, and hope as an essential element in learning.

22 responses »

  1. I always enjoy this poem.

  2. I don’t understand most poems. I’m one of those beating a poem to death to find meaning.

    • Then I’m in good company. I’m too literal. I never liked poems as a kid in school. But 30 years on and I’m learning a bit now. Maybe I still have time and hope left.

      • I enjoyed poems when I was in school. I can be quite literal at times. Poetry helps with that. Struggling for meaning goes hand-in-hand with writing and reading poetry and living.

    • I do at times, as well. I think that happens. If I leave a poem for a bit and come back, that helps.

      • Good advice. I usually have to read them a couple times and even then, sometimes, I’m still scratching my head. Are poems meant to be something you puzzle out? I like layers of meaning, (Margaret Mair and the late Cynthia Jobin are wonderful at this) but some poems, I just don’t get, Ivon.

      • Maybe it is the ones I don’t get I enjoy the most. There is a certain mystical quality in a Mary Oliver poem that leaves me wondering.

      • I hear you. Thing is, I find her poems pretty easy to understand, mystical quality and all. And I usually understand the poems you post here. (Or maybe I just really like them, and think I therefore understand them!)

  3. How interesting that they were more likely to share their stories the second time round!

  4. Oh wow. Love your lines. I think it can be a struggle for some in the beginning.

  5. Very well put. Thanks. I remember when I was still studying Comparative Literature and had to stay behind our Literary Criticism class just to bombard my professor with arguments for not expounding on Reader Response theory. Even though found the other approaches to reading literature quite helpful, especially when pursuing a profession in criticism, I felt like reader response in our curriculum was so undermined. I just thought that reader response is as equally important as the rest of the theories. But maybe that was just me thinking that our educational system was a bit elitist.

    • I tried to have students provide their insights into a poem or story. When we have multiple responses, it is likely we discover things we missed in a text. Paul Ricoeur referred to the polysemy of a text based the potential for ongoing responses and interpretations of it.

      • Thanks for the insight. I did encounter some discussions on this with my other professors. Although I have to clarify that we weren’t necessarily spoon fed but I was also glad that a few of them were introducing unconventional approaches, too. At some point we didn’t really stick with the canon, especially with most modern lit texts.

  6. Tanya MacPherson

    Hey! Loved this, would you check out
    This guy is a amazing poet and I’d love for you to see his work


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