Jejudo, South Korea
Should a poet answer questions posed?
Yes and no.
I usually don't have a problem answering specific questions, but I don't understand the question, "What does it mean?". It means two things to me:
One, you learned somewhere that all poems have secret meanings and that you don't want to figure it out yourself. This doesn't fit with Howard Nemerov's comment (famous on the internet) to Mary Kinzie when she asked the same question. He responded, "You never ask a poet what he means, you tell him."
Two, the poem failed. In a very real sense a poem can't be paraphrased except as a kind of caricature. You may not 'get' every line but there should be some effect, some moment that transcends the very question itself. If that doesn't happen, it means the poem didn't work for you and nothing the author says is going to help you or the poem.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't ask questions but, I think, they have to be more specific than "what does it mean?" Otherwise, I'm stuck asking what does 'what does it mean?' mean? :-)
I'll talk about it, I'll talk about technique. But a poem is almost always too big to be lumped together under one all encompassing question. One rule of thumb might be that if talking about the poem ends up with less words than the number of words in the poem itself, then something is going wrong.
I have argued in CA that meaning is less important than this effect. Now, 'transcend' is a tricky word. I suspect many people tend to see it as almost synonymous with 'sublime' but I mean it very specifically here. A poem does not have to be serious, it does not have to talk about important things. Making you laugh is just as important as making you cry, making you smile is just as important as pontificating on grave matters. It doesn't have to put you in awe. It simply has to do something so that asking what the meaning is secondary to the reading of the poem itself.
I'll use an example:
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
What does that mean? I don't know, I may go do some homework at some point, but the reason I would do homework is because the overall poem creates an effect, one that gets most people immediately, for the last line of that stanza is
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
[This message has been edited by Brad (05-08-2008 11:28 PM).]