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Student discussion: Puzzles

In this video discussion, the team discuss puzzles in poetry, and how reflecting on these puzzles can unlock meaning.
I want to have a think about some of the puzzles that this poem throws up for us. One of the patterns through this poem is the strong emphasis on ‘I’ at the beginning of sentences. ‘I said’, ‘I thought’, ‘I planned’. And then suddenly in that last but one stanza, we have ‘you’ and ‘your’. So ‘those restless birds’, ‘your actor’s hands’, ‘until you turned to me at last’. We don’t know who ‘I’ and ‘you’ are in this poem. And so that’s a real puzzle. It just leaves you with a feeling almost. That’s almost all you have about what’s happening here.
I think another thing about the ‘I’ pattern going throughout the whole thing, that second to last stanza actually really, really threw me when I first read it. And I think that is why. It was ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’, and it wasn’t just ‘you’ or ‘your’, it was ‘your actor’s hands’. It went from these very abstract items almost to something so intensely personal, like someone’s hands,
the way that they move: ‘those restless birds’, ‘your actor’s hands dropped slack in your lap’. And that was, I feel, like that was quite a puzzle for me. I had to stop and really think, wait, there was such a change in the tone and the feeling. I also think, yeah, kind of in the change of tone, the pronoun change kind of comes along with a difference in almost weight. You can feel that it’s really heavy when it says ‘your actor’s hands dropped slack in your lap’. You can imagine it to be really kind of heavy, which kind of lines up with the emotional weight of the last bit, whereas all the ‘I’ stuff’s quite lighthearted and free and open.
It was very much that image of hands dropping slack and then the weight of the last line and that last pattern of ‘I meant’, ‘I meant’, ‘I meant’. There’s something very intense about that. Yeah. And I really like that idea of heaviness, that it’s emotionally weighty, and it feels heavy. What feeling does that leave us with about this relationship that’s being described, I wonder? What you said about togetherness is also unity there. So before they’d been separated, and now ‘you have turned to me’, and it’s kind of like the full stop at the end of the line and two things coming together, just as the narrator and the subject are coming together.
There’s at the same time this massive sense of finality. It’s just stopped, very much stopped, you very much pause. And as you say, the poem actually ends almost on the line. And that’s kind of the first time that’s happened. Yeah. Great. But that’s not the end of the poem, is it? That’s what’s really interesting. It doesn’t finish there. It feels like it should end.
We go on: ‘When I spoke of Patagonia, I meant skies or empty aching blue. I meant years. I meant all of them with you’. What does that sort of end– that last bit of the poem add to that? What does it do to that sense of weight of finality of ending? I found empty aching blue quite hard to figure out in the sense that I could feel it. I kind of felt the weight and the kind of sadness, but I couldn’t picture it, like what it would look like in my head. Yeah. And that’s really interesting and important to acknowledge. When we can’t make an image of something in our minds, when it remains a puzzle. That’s OK.
I think we can live with that, and that’s part of the experience of this poem. It almost makes it stick more. You don’t understand it, but you can almost feel it. It makes it stay in your head. Yeah. Yeah, great.
Puzzles, as mentioned in the previous Step, are not always there to be ‘solved’. Sometimes, mystery and the feeling of not knowing something are essential to the experience of reading a poem.
In the last of the round table discussions of this Week, watch Rebecca, Elliot, Yinka-Maria and Alannah identify and analyse the puzzles in ‘Patagonia’. Compare your notes to their ideas and consider the questions below. Do try and share your thoughts in the comments below and take a moment to see what others have written.
What puzzles did you find in ‘Patagonia’? Were your ideas similar or different from those of our students? What impact do the puzzles that you’ve spotted have on your experience of the poem?
Later in the course, you’ll hear from Kate Clanchy, who will provide some insight into her creation of ‘Patagonia’. But before we get to this, in the next Step, we want you to combine the reading techniques you have been developing throughout this week and put them into practice.
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