April 12, 2016

Friday, October 22, 2010

Poetry Friday: Rachel Hadas & Poetic Form

Happy Poetry Friday!

One of the poets I went to see at the Dodge Poetry Festival earlier this month was Rachel Hadas. She is called a neo-formalist. During the craft-talk, Hadas had some interesting things to say about the value of form in modern poetry.

I loved this one (aimed at classrooms, I'm sure): don't encourage students to discuss what "the poet was trying to say." He or she has said it.

Hadas said that we can't know a poet's intentions. It's probably better to talk about what the poem is doing and how -- the tools the poet uses that allow us to read a poem and say, "This is how the poem feels to me. This is what it means to me."

She used this wonderful simile: poetry is like a blank check. The reader fills in his own connections to some extent. Hadas' well known poem "The Red Hat" is a great example of this idea.

After reading this poem to us, Hadas said the experience described in "The Red Hat" "is something that every parent and child negotiate all over the world."

The Red Hat

by Rachel Hadas

It started before Christmas. Now our son
officially walks to school alone.
Semi-alone, it's accurate to say;
I or his father track him on the way.
He walks up on the east side of West End,
we on the west side. Glances can extend
(and do) across the street; not eye contact.
Already ties are feeling and not fact.
Straus Park is where these parallel paths part;
he goes alone from there. The watcher's heart
stretches, elastic in its love and fear,
toward him as we see him disappear ...

You can view the entire poem, read by both Laurie Wessely and Roy Bumiller for National Poetry Month, on YouTube:

As Hadas pointed out, even poems that are rooted in specific experience will "float free" of their occasion and speak to a larger truth.

Have a wonderful Poetry Friday. In Maryland, we're putting on our red (and purple and blue) hats. It's getting cold! Andi at A Wrung Sponge is on poetry-post round-up duty today. Check out her blog for more poems.


Amy L V said...

Ah, this is one of my new favorite poems. With children teetering on the knife edge of adolescence, I want to follow and watch but need to learn to let go. Poems like this help me not feel alone. Thank you for sharing it and for sharing the words of Rachel Hadas too. I love her "blank check" analogy. A.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Amy. This poem was used for an AP exam, so there are analyses of it all over the web. That fascinates me, because it describes such a simple moment -- but one with ramifications about families and their changing dynamics.

Jeannine Atkins said...


Laura, wish I would be seeing you in Minneapolis, where I just got in. Am meeting a friend who's in her first year at Macalester -- she'll show me around -- in 15 minutes, then I'll head over to the Holiday Inn gang where we'll be thinking of you.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

What a powerful image that red hat is at the beginning and end of the poem! At least it is at the beginning of the YouTube reading, and hits me hard. Thanks for sharing this.

Author Amok said...

Jeananne -- me too. I'm sad not to be meeting everyone :-( This is such a busy time of year for my family.

Andi -- I agree. That red hat could be any type of hat, but I imagine a bulky knitted one, something that looks home-made.

Elaine Magliaro said...

Her approach to poetry sounds similar to the one John Ciardi talked about in his book "How does a Poem Mean."

Author Amok said...

I'll have to look for that book, Elaine. I wonder how this approach plays out with younger readers like the elementary schoolers I work with.

Author Amok said...

I liked that too, Toby, the idea of a poem speaking to larger truths than whatever event inspired its making.

Tidying up can make or break a poem -- too much can unravel the thread. Not enough and the poem can feel cluttered or dip into sentimentality. "The Red Hat" never crosses that line.

laurasalas said...

Interesting that both this poem and a Kay Ryan poem someone else shared talk about the stretchiness of life!

I completely love what she says about analysis. When I talk with teachers, my biggest emphasis is to get kids to react, respond to a poem. To see what THEY think of it, not what they think the poet thought about.

Thanks for sharing this!