Gathered around the end of a long cedar table in Massachusetts Hall on a recent Wednesday night, three Bowdoin students were taking a study break, replacing the rigors of writing papers for the rigors of analyzing poetry.
They were there as members of Manic Semantics, Bowdoin’s newly formed poetry society. Founded by sophomores Jesse Ortiz and Peter Yanson this semester, the club aims “to provide a space for engaged and enthusiastic students to discuss poetry in a fun, but still serious, atmosphere,” club president Oritz said. “We’re not trying to publish anything or focus on a specific type of poetry.”
Member Katherine Churchill ’16 said she enjoys analyzing poetry without the pressure to write it. “I wish we studied more poetry in other classes,” she added.
Ortiz and Yanson said they were inspired to start the student organization after taking the English class, “Introduction to Poetry.” The course showed them how enjoyable it is to read and discuss poetry.
At a regular evening meeting of Manic Semantics, the poetry enthusiasts spent an hour talking about “High Windows,” by Philip Larkin, W.B. Yeats’ “The Witch,” and Laura Kasischke’s “Recall the Carousel.”
The group discussed how analyzing a poem is like putting a puzzle together. Underneath the literal interpretations are literary and structural devices that convey other possibly contradictory or complicating messages. Once put together, a poem forms a picture, providing a unique and profound view on the world.
Take Philip Larkin’s “High Windows.” The first stanza shocks the reader with its description of sexual liberalization, then moves into a whimsical look at what could be Larkin’s own religiously-infused resentment. By the time you reach the second to last stanza and the English colloquialism, “free bloody birds,” you realize you should have read the entire poem in a British accent, joked Yanson, provoking giggles from the group.
The Manic Semantics labored over “Recall the Carousel” for the last portion of the meeting. Just when they thought they had figured it out, Yanson asked, “What if this whole poem is a conceit?” Others agreed that this changed everything, and went back to it before wrapping up the night.