The Balance of Trust

I’ve been in workshops off and on all semester for my final writing class before my graduation in December (eek…how fast it approaches, how that December 13th date both excites and terrifies).

The project that I have been workshopping is a sequence of poems documenting this past summer of my life. While most of these poems are fairly simple in content, dealing with family and home and love, a few are a bit more complex.
I spent a couple of weeks in Israel in May, so a few poems deal with some issues and experiences I encountered in Israel. I’m no expert on Jewish or Israeli culture by any means, but a two-week excursion, a semester-long preparatory class, and four years living in a markedly Jewish area of northern Ohio had given me a frame of reference.

The first poem I wrote about Israel is titled “To the Western Wall,” and in it I make brief reference to the ancient Jewish priests who once filled the temple. Here are those lines:

This war-torn
Foundation, revered stone
once supporting a heavy
Presence—a room ringing
bell and pomegranate.

I approached writing this knowing that priests in ancient Jewish custom wore robes that had embroidered bells and pomegranates on the hem, which had symbolic significance that I wanted in my poems.

But my classmates again and again commented, “what’s up with the bell and pomegranate?”

Okay–I do not expect my workshop group to have a knowledge of obscure Jewish custom. However, it got me thinking: how much do we trust our reader to research and look for allusion so we don’t have to compromise the integrity of the piece or treat a poem like it’s a lesson to the reader?

I’m not sure I have the answer to this one. What do you think? Is allusion okay? Or is it often too obscure to be appreciated?

I think I lean towards trusting the reader to do their homework, to research, so poems can be rich with depth.
It’s also important to be as clear as you can, though. A one-word allusion is probably going to go over even the most competent and researching readers.

And perhaps it’s as simple as including notes or an epilogue in the back of a collection. I think I support almost anything that allows language to reign in a poem, for the turns of phrases to be beautiful allusion if you want them to be.

What do you think, writers and readers of the blogosphere? Where’s the line of trust with readers?

Keep up the good work, friends.

Abigail Joy

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