Imaginary reader – when you work on a poem always be aware that poetry is communications. A poem must say something to somebody. You are not writing for yourself. Okay, yes we all occasionally write a poem just for ourselves, but… Ted Kooser recommends that when you set down to write a poem you have an imaginary reader in your mind. Your choice. Anybody, any group, any type of person will work. You just need someone you’re communicating with. As Kooser says, “yours might be a chicken plucker in a poultry processing plant or a distinguished professor of choral music.” The more generic the person the more universal the poem. IE: If you wrote a poem to a chicken plucker, maybe only chicken pluckers will understand the poem. The narrower your reader, the more difficult it will be to get the poem out where that person can read it. If you wrote a poem for middle class 40’s women, think of how many people could understand. You don’t need to write to all the 40’s women, just write to one special one you’ve made up in your brain, and then all will be able to read the poem.
The trick is to keep that person in the room while you’re writing the poem. Have them look over your shoulder. Let them in on the rewrite process. On webdelsol.com I came across a quote on imaginary readers, “I have an imaginary reader who is very demanding. He/She will not allow any fluff.”
But it’s important to keep the same imaginary reader throughout the entire poem. You don’t want to start with chicken pluckers and end with a professor, that will confuse both of them, and any other readers your poem has. You can change your imaginary readers for each poem. Though Kooser generally writes for an imaginary reader who is a high school educated to a couple years of college who is not a literary critic or sophisticated reader. Many poets usually write to the same imaginary reader. That’s okay.
Keep in mind that all readers of poetry are on their guard when they come across a poem, thus for them to feel comfortable, the reader must feel safe in the poet’s hands. To do that, your imaginary reader must also feel safe in your hands.
You can write to a specific person, but that person should be obvious early in the poem. Ex: write to a cashier at the grocery store. The one who rang the lettuce through twice. It can be exhilarating and emotionally releasing to write in a moment of anger or lust to a specific person. There’s a name for it, “rant.” Rant – a tirade, a theatrical recitation, to speak vehemently, to yell and scream about a specific subject. But to keep the rant in the poetic realm you must tone it down, bring the screaming down to where your imaginary reader can understand it.
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