On Close Reading & Lessons from "The Blind Men and the Elephant"

When attempting a close reading of a poem, as a caution to keeping in mind the integrity of the poem throughout the process, I think about the parable of the blind men and the elephant. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant Each one touches just a part of the animal and each one thinks they've come in contact with a completely different thing.

Because there are multiple elements of a poem, there are many things to closely study. To my mind these are the parts of a poem: Form,  structure, texture and energy are the interior aspects of the poem. The exterior also includes energy, along with function, substance and spirit. Each element is interwoven, dependent upon each other to create the experience of the poem itself.

By interior, I mean it is something that the poet must do in order for it to be a part of the poem. By exterior, I mean the poem has to be read in order for that element to come to life.

Substance I define as "what is in a poem". Function is "how a poem works as art". Spirit is "why the poem exists" or "the consciousness" in or of the poem.

Texture can be defined as the materials of the poem. Structure is the organization of the materials, the taxonomy (my term) of the materials, or, another way is to say the architecture. Form is the arrangement of the materials --not in the traditional sense of the term "poetic form" -- but to create harmony, pattern, symmetry, recurrence and unity. To put it another way, in the words of Robert Duncan, "It has never seemed...that the true form of a poem was a convention or an ideal of form, but, as in life, a form having its convention in the language of our human experience, as our bodies have their information in the life-code of the species, and our spirit in the creative will."

Energy is the most difficult thing to break down and analyze in a poem, but it is the thing that makes it successful. A poem could have adequate substance or form or texture but without energy, it is unfulfilling. Voice is an element of energy, as is freshness, surprise, authenticity and confidence (confidence of the poem, not the person writing it; confidence that it is the way it is supposed to be, to put it Zen-ly).

The close readings done on the Emily Dickinson poems have, so far, focused mostly on the aspects of texture and function, as in: this is the word chosen, what could it mean? what does it do? Structure and form, substance and spirit, and energy of the poem aren't really addressed. Often those things are described as metapoetic. But I don't consider them above the essence of a poem, I consider essential  ingredients in what makes a poem as poem (as opposed to a play or a story).