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I think I made you up inside my head.

college chat in that old 1987 style

In one college English class, I had to choose a poem, get several people (English and non-English majors) to read the poem, interview each person about the poem, and write a report about the results. I hated the class, but I loved this assignment.

The poem–a villanelle

(I didn’t give the poem’s title or the poet’s name to the reader until question 7.)

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary darkness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphin and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

We had to ask the same 7 questions of each reader. What the questions were was up to us.

The Questions–
1. Do you like the poem? Why or why not?
2. What feelings are provoked by the poem?
3. What meaning do you perceive to be behind the phrase, “I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.”
4. What effects are achieved by repetition? By rhyme?
5. Do you take the narrator to be a man or a woman? Why?
6. Why would the narrator feel they’d been made up inside another person’s head?
7. In what ways is the girl mad? How does her mental condition affect your response to the poem?

One reader, a girl across the hall from me, who dyed her hair blonde and bragged about her virginity, said the poem was “too short and too abstract.” “The repetition drills into your brain what they want you to think.” “I have a tendency to think the narrator is a man because men seem to think about bad things…” “I don’t like it & I think she needs lots of zippers and velcro. On the other hand, it shows tremendous amounts of creativity & imagination.”

Another reader, a girl next door I didn’t know that well, said, “In a way, I think it’s a woman. Women are more likely to fall in love, but the line about the thunderbird makes me think about a man.” I realized later that she thought thunderbird was the car.

A later reader, a close friend at the time and an English major, believed the narrator was a woman, “because a man wouldn’t think he just made something up in his mind… And a woman can’t sing a man moon-struck.”

A few readers worried they were getting the answers wrong. Several people I asked to read the poem, refused to read poetry.

It is National Poetry Month. Do you like poetry? Write poetry? Have a favorite poem?

Quote me something.

11 thoughts on “I think I made you up inside my head.

  1. Nope, not a fan of poetry generally. I have a couple of online friends who are quite skilled with it, but I’ve never taken an appreciation class or anything. I know reading it and writing it is supposed to help prose writers, especially where imagery is concerned, but I tried and it didn’t do much for me. Not that I could tell.

    I do, however, love Robert Frost’s The Road Less Traveled (I think that’s the title). But I’m such an ignoramus in this area I couldn’t begin to tell you what else, who else, or anything else.

    National Poetry Month, eh? First I’ve heard of it, I’m afraid. (How bad is that?)

    • Liking poetry is great, but it isn’t obligatory. I dislike plenty of poetry. Still, there are wonderful poems out there. My passion is fiction, but I try to be open to other genres. I like the Frost poem too.

  2. Poetry is what I wanted to write before all else. Several reasons why I didn’t pursue it more, but at this point in my life I am embracing it wholeheartedly. Thanks for the Sylvia Plath!

    Here is one of my favorite poems by Robert Bly-

    Call and Answer

    Tell me why it is we don’t lift our voices these days
    And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
    The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

    I say to myself: “Go on, cry. What’s the sense
    Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
    See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!”

    We will have to call especially loud to reach
    Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
    In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

    Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
    Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
    Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

    How come we’ve listened to the great criers—Neruda,
    Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass—and now
    We’re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

    Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
    Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
    Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.

    • Why indeed. Last night I found myself wondering why is it we tell so many stories espousing understanding, tolerance, and peace, and yet see thousands of examples of people having none of these things?

  3. When I start to read a poem I get sleepy, just like Darcknyt said about writing the other day. It seems like the biggest imposition in the world to have to decipher the language, rhythm, meaning, and yet usually if I make the effort I take something away and am glad for having read it. Like this poem.

    I thought the poem was written by a man for several reasons. 1) It’s just like a man to imagine the world drops dead if he’s not looking at it (apologies to the men reading this), 2) the word “bewitched” has a feminine connotation, so if the bewitcher is female, the bewitchee is presumably male, 3) back to #1, he’s forgotten her name and that sounds more like a man to me, and 4) the dumbest reason of all, the parenthetical parts say “you”, which means the narrator is talking to “me”, and I am a woman.

    So now that I’ve laid all my flawed reasoning out on the table, I think I shall feel fine about not reading poetry, because I’m clearly not cut out for it.

    • I think it’s teachers who make us decipher poetry. They make us decipher fiction too. I think some poetry and fiction is worth the effort. Some isn’t. And some poetry and fiction doesn’t require it.

      This poem was written by Sylvia Plath. But I think everyone is cut out for reading poetry if they want to be. It is sad that so many people feel poetry is just a classroom/intellectual/hard work sort of thing. Plenty of accessible poetry exists.

  4. LOL @ Sherri. 🙂 Now I don’t feel so bad, because it struck me as being more mannish too. 🙂

    Some poetry I like. There are lots of old hymns I like too, and they strike me as poetry to music. I used to write poetry when I was younger – nothing great, but I have tried to put some of what I could recall on my poetry blog.

    Personally, I think poetry should reach people. I think if it needs to be analyzed, then it’s failed. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! 🙂

    • You’re on to something! A song, a poem, a story has to reach you. And if that piece does take work to understand, there ought to be something about it that inspires you to understand it. The world of poetry is vast. Something has to be out there that can reach you!

  5. How did I miss this post?!

    I have for over 10 years been on the board of directors of a well-respected small press which publishes ONLY poetry. (Well, we did our first book of prose last year — first one in like 30+ years.) But I’m no poet or poetry authority, just the webmaster. Still, one of the perks is that I get a copy of every book we publish.

    And I gotta say, I really like it. Most (all?) of what we publish doesn’t emphasize form — rhyme and meter etc. — but it’s also not “arty” or obscure. I think the life of my mind feels richer for having read poetry every now and then.

    Our book designer also does a consistently good job, with covers especially.

    (I won’t bother to quote any of it here; too hard to manage from a Blackberry. But there’s plenty online, at the Anhinga Press site.)

    • I did think it odd. Yes, I did. You are a poetry person after all. A long time ago you may have mention this Anhinga Press. But I forgot. My head gets filled with so much stuff… But of course. I did know. That is very cool too.

      I’m sure changing what we read, going from a newspaper to a novel to a poem to whatever else is good for the mind. Challenging the usual is good. Won’t go so far as to say you have to read poetry to lead a full life. But I will say that poetry can add another layer, texture, something good.

      Glad you noticed this poem. This was my favorite poem when I was 18.

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