Speakers of poems have many different underlying ideas in which they wish to convey to readers, and each speaker has a specific way of going about developing the idea. For example, the speaker may use certain forms of descriptive language, types of imagery, and in some cases repetitious phrases. Each of these different forms of communicating to the reader requires thought, imagination, and an open-minded sense of understanding. It is through this process that one can fully understand the speaker’s motivation behind writing, and hopefully find ways to apply the message to other aspects in life.
In the poem “Mending Well,” by Robert Frost, the speaker is contemplating the reason behind his neighbor’s persistence in keeping a wall between their houses. The neighbor simply says to him that “good fences make good neighbors” (line 27) without clarifying what exactly is being “walled out.” The neighbor consistently comes outside to repair the wall to make sure it remains intact, and the speaker on the other side of the fence, simply wonders the importance of this fence. Perhaps what the neighbor is trying to convey is that boundaries keep people from seeing the total truth, that creating this distance will help to keep one from getting too close or seeing too much, and therefore remaining good neighbors and or good friends. This theme is also prevalent in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, which depicts the boarders in cities which separate the desirable and un-desirable. The author describes that along the sides of railroads, waterfronts, and big-city university campuses, there are as she calls them “blight-prone zones.” Blight-prone zones are those containing underprivileged housing developments, and stores which close before dark due to dangerous activities which take place during the night. While on the other side of this boarder, there are places of commercialization and popularity in which society desires to be a part of. Although there are many possible solutions to this gap between boarders, the groups on the “blight-prone” side have adjusted to the stereotype and therefore live their lives according to it, never crossing over to the other side and closing their stores early; while on the contrary, the other side of the boarder continues to keep entirely clear of what is unsafe or more accurately, unfamiliar to them.
In the poem “The Game,” written by Judith Ortiz Cofer, a young humpbacked girl is portrayed in an environment where she is kept from society and attending school, because of her family’s shame. Instead, the little girl decides to create her own world of pretend friends and family, and she invites the speaker, Cruz, to join her in this “game” of make believe. The speaker describes the little girl’s way of coping as, “lost in the game, until it started getting too late to play pretend” (lines 40-41). Similarly, in Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Slam, Dunk, & Hook,” a band of boys use basketball as a way to escape the realities of life. One of the boys, Sonny, experienced a crisis in life in which he lost his mother. As a method of coping they played nonstop to avoid the truth because the truth was an undesirable and painful thought. In each of these, the speaker portrays human’s most common coping mechanism as simply denying the truth, and using the distraction of game to keep from dealing with reality.
The most prevalent theme or perspective among these poems is the idea that it is human nature to try to either keep hidden what is bothering us on the inside, or to drive all negative energy into a fake reality pretending that nothing is truly wrong. Whether hiding behind a fence, or creating a play world, each of us finds a way to keep our flaws invisible to others.