Add new comment

This interview with Elizabeth Alexander struck me as intriguing because of her assertion that poetry can offer a place of quiescence and solitude. This idea of poetry affording a reserved moment and an opportunity for inner contemplation has been reiterated by multiple poets who are just as passionate about their work and want others to experience the same pleasure they do in poetic writing. Alexander focuses on the importance of having those instances of silence as well as finding truth in poetry that isn't necessarily expressed in other forms of writing. I also found these elements of experiencing poetry in reading and discussing William Carlos Williams’ “This is Just to Say.”
Alexander states that she finds poetry situates her in a moment that prose can only describe. This draws on the significance and differentiating factors that poetry holds as an art form. She goes on to further discuss how society as a whole “craves truth tellers,” which are predominantly absent in the performance of speech. We generally accept this form of discourse although it doesn't really get us anywhere, and instead we should be asking “What would we really say?” Alexander also expands on the importance of poetry offering small chunks of time for self-contemplation and quiet mindfulness. She describes it as a moment of inner listening, in which one takes notice of themselves and their subjective well-being.. I found this to be particularly evident when I read and then discussed “This is Just to Say”.
Upon my first reading of this poem I knew I would need to slow down and truly notice and take time discover the poem. On my first glance it seemed to be hardly anything more structurally complex than a kitchen note crudely scrabbled on a napkin. After taking this time and eventually obtaining my own understanding of the poem, however, I sought out others’ opinions through discussion. It seemed that my peers largely differed on their interpretation of how the poem should be read. The general consensus seemed to be that the poem had a sarcastic tone in its entirety, and that if the speaker were truly apologetic they would have begun the actual apology at the beginning of the poem. I fervently disagreed. I read this poem as though it were written by someone afflicted with anxiety. Someone who is honestly apologetic and is seeking forgiveness for something they are truly ashamed of. My interpretation of the first two stanzas,
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

is that they are to be read in a more accelerated fashion, as though it were a monologue of the train of thoughts that come tumbling out as the speaker tries to write the note. The line breaks play a significant role in this appreciation of the poem because I imagine a gasp for air at the end of each of them as the speaker tries to hold back apologetic tears and the anxiety of committing what they perceive as a severe misdeed. The final stanza, however, offers that sense of inner contemplation and quiet resolve that Alexander noted. The speaker ends their frantic apology with the last stanza.
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

From my interpretation, this was a stanza ridden with tones of guilt and self-deprecation. The completion of the apology offers a quiet resolve that appears in opposition to the tone of the rest of the poem. In my imagining of the rest of the poem to be frenetic in pace, this last stanza is read slower as the speaker comes to terms with themselves and reaches a point of acceptance with their guilt and scorn for themselves. After reading this poem, I always find myself considering what it truly means to be apologetic and how personality factors can be misinterpreted when not understood from a perspective that understands the person asking for forgiveness. The quiet moment of seeking truth from the poem and brooding over it’s real life application to myself and others demonstrates that moment of solace and obtaining an understanding within oneself that was previously not sought out. As Alexander asserts, prose could describe this experience of anxiety in social relations and the guilt and stress that accompanies it, but the poem “This is Just to Say” puts the reader into the subjective experience of what prose can only offer a descriptive narrative of.