Knowing how to find the main idea of a poem is extremely useful when analysing poetry for the Area of Study Discovery ‘unseen texts’ section. It can also come in handy when analysing related texts for Discovery or Module C.
Let’s take a look at a poem by contemporary Australian poet Pam Brown.
To find the main idea of the poem, we are going to unravel the poem stanza by stanza and consider:
1. The poem’s progression
To see the poem’s progression, we pay attention to how mood or attitude changes from stanza to stanza, taking note of contrast and similitude.
2. Punctuation and Typography.
Ideas are often revealed in punctuation and the way that the text is arranged on the page (typography). Noticing those things is much more important in a modern poem such as the one below, than analysing rhyming schemes, because many modern poems are written in free verse.
Let’s apply these steps to Pam Brown’s ‘You Sometimes’
by Pam Brown
you sing about dancers.
you write like hemingway.
you sometimes forgive me, buy champagne.
i heel your boots/glaze your windows
colour your ceiling/ drive your car
carry your boxes.
you polish my coins.
1. The Poem’s Progression
The first stanza enumerates (lists) characteristics and tendencies of the persona’s friend or lover. We get the impression that her friend or lover is an aspiring artist from the references to singing, dancing, the writer Hemingway, and champagne. The second stanza, by contrast, lists a number of household maintenance activities, and depicts the persona as a practical and down-to-earth individual. In comparison to the addressee of the poem, she appears somewhat dull, and seems to feel that way too.
The third stanza has only one line and it is a heavy line that seems to hold all of the persona’s feelings towards this person. It describes in an instant what this person does for the persona, and it is a useless thing compared to what she has done for him or her. But its exclusive occupation of the poem’s concluding stanza gives it value; its location in the poem and its brevity convey a tone of finality. The persona is suggesting that this friend or lover provides a sense of novelty, and instills a feeling of importance in the persona (though somewhat superficial), as newly minted coins might.
2. Punctuation and Typography:
None of the words in this poem are capitalised, and this makes the poem more intimate as it creates the impression that the reader has just found a fragment of a diary entry left behind by the persona.
The use of backward slashes in the second stanza instead of conjunctions like ‘and’ and ‘as well’ adds to the informal tone. Backward slashes are typically used to enumerate things of a similar quality. Their appearance in this poem emphasises both the sense that there are too many things to take down in such a small amount of space, as well as the role of the persona in this relationship as the practical, organised person.
The most significant typographical element of this poem is the last line, and in particular, its isolation as a single line. The meaning behind that can be tied back to the superficial appeal of polished coins which the poet would like to resist but is unable to. And the polished coins of course, symbolise the charm of the poem’s addressee.
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