“An accurate taste in poetry can only be produced by severe thought, and long continued intercourse with the best models of composition.”
Poetic interpretations present several challenges, as ultimately, the writer may have a specific personal meaning behind each word. However when read by others, both subjectively and objectively, a combination of the poetic format, literal meanings and metaphors can bring a completely different interpretation to the reader.
Upon first reading Poverty of Mirrors with an open mind, it immediately led to the question, “What does Alexie mean when he speaks of mirrors?” That question led to other questions. “Could this be a poem about self reflection?” “Could mirrors symbolize life and its struggles?”
The second reading was less objective and more analytical. Different words have different levels of meaning, and looking at it more closely for those meanings is necessary to interpretation. Does “swallow of warm beer from the can”, have a denotative meaning or is it metaphorical? Is Alexie literally telling someone to leave when he speaks of telling “the stranger sleeping on the floor to go home” or is it a personification of what he feels his life has become? Does “slightly worried about the light bill more concerned with how dark day gets” have a connotative meaning. What emotion is Alexie trying to convey by using evocative lines such as “so you open the fridge again / for a beer, find only rancid milk and drink it / whole. This all tastes too familiar.”?
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Paraphrasing the poem as a whole and rewording it, as well as analyzing the imagery were key in finding the central thought of the poem. This led to the conclusion that the figure in the poem, perhaps Alexie himself, is speaking of a low point in life; and possible struggles with alcoholism and depression. In the line, “â€¦wondering / what color rain is in the country” seems to be an expression by the author in wondering what life is like outside the scope of his world. “Does the world out there revolve around rooms / without doors or windows? …” is perhaps the author feeling that the freedom he so desperately wants is unattainable. “â€¦Centering the mirror / you found in the trash, walls seem closer / and you can never find the right way outâ€¦” helped in determining that the author is reflecting upon his life, and reinforces he likely feels as though there is no way out of his current life predicament and or current suffering.
Concluding the poem, the poet ends at the same place he started, looking for a beer. “â€¦so you open the fridge again / for a beer, find only rancid milk and drink it / whole. This all tastes too familiar.” This is perhaps an expression of the author self medicating, and instead of finding the tonic to wash away his depression, is forced to ‘swallow’ a harsh reality.
In reading further works by this poet, it helps confirm the interpretive theory of “Poverty of Mirrors”. The poem “What the orphan Inherits” reads like a feelings of a feeling of disconnect with his cultural heritage. He breaks the poem down into five parts: Languages, names, alcohol, time and tradition. In the first part language he is speaking to an unknown person about digging their grave. “â€¦ I touched your face/and skin fell in thin strips to the ground” is perhaps the first indication that the poet feels a disconnect on the surface with his Native American Heritage. In the names section of poem he speaks of how he doesn’t have an Indian name and how his heart was hidden. He also goes on to state that “â€¦I have to cheat to feel/the beating of drums in my chest”. This section of the poem suggests disconnect and longing that is not much different than the interpretation of the lines “â€¦walk along moist pavement wondering/what color rain is in the country” from the poem Poverty of Mirrors.
The section Alcohol from the “What the Orphan Inherits” Alexie states
“For bringing us the horse
We could almost forgive you
For bringing us whisky”
This would be a direct historical reference to White Settlers introducing Alcohol to Native Tribes; and the alcohol addiction that currently plagues many Native Americans. The reference to alcohol and alcoholism ties back to the alcohol theme in “Poverty of Mirrors”. Alcohol again is also a theme in the section related to Time.
In Tradition the author compares Native American boys being like deer frozen in headlights. This is perhaps another way of talking about life being stagnant or frozen much the way he talks about being stuck in a room without doors and windows in “Poverty of Mirrors”.
The theme of depression, disconnect and the disease of alcoholism can also be found in Alexie’s poem, “I would steal horses”. In the poem Alexie seems to be addressing a lover or a significant other and how their addictions and results of those addictions are a central theme in their relationship. In the first and second stanza Alexie is talking about his lover’s father. He states “I am afraid of his hands, which have/rebuilt more of the small parts/of this world than I ever will.” This could possibly be a reference to feeling insignificant and that what he has done in life is seriously lacking in comparison to her father. This feeling of insignificance is also reflected in the first line of the second stanza of “Poverty of Mirrors”; “To be no one with nothing to do”.
In the last part of the poem he states “I would wrap us both in old blankets/hold every disease tight against our skin.” This seems to be a direct reference of potential alcoholism being central to the relationship. Much the same as alcoholism seems central to poverty of mirrors.
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