I got my first-year English students to read "I Know a Man" by Robert Creeley.
We got into a good-natured scrap. I resisted readings of "drunk driver" or "drug runners" or "fugitives"; they resisted my apparent refusal to go beyond the sense of dis-ease, confusion, meaninglessness of the speaker as conveyed by linebreaks and other elements. "Yes, but what is the reason for the meaninglessness," they said. This went on for a while.
Next class, having been dissatisfied with our discussion, I proposed two vessels, each containing poem. With the first, we attack with our analytical devices, closing in on the poem, pinning it down. I drew a lid of this vessel, with arrows pointing in. The second vessel remained lidless, a bunch of arrows spilling out, accompanied by question marks. With this vessel, I claimed, we tease the poem open and let it stay that way. So with "I Know a Man", I went on, let's settle for the questions, without stretching for the answers.
"But what kind of world is filled with confusion and questions," they said.
"Exactly!" I [may have bellowed]. "The world of the poem! The world "surrounded by darkness"! Sounds quite a bit like life to me."
"That's an interpretation!" they cried. "How come you can say that and we can't say it's a drug deal gone bad or a couple of drunks out for a joyride!"
We had smiles on our faces, most of us in the room. I mumbled something about, well, you're adults, you can do what you want, but on an essay or a final exam you'd better be able to make a case that your reading comes from THE LANGUAGE OF THE POEM and so on. "We will," they said. "No worries."
Then I got the best idea yet. "You know," I said, "I'd prefer a poem like this any day to some poem you can read once and understand forever. "Tell you what. Let's turn to the first the war poem listed on that essay assignment. Let's see which one you prefer." We read "Arms and the Boy".
Not a bad little poem, I said to myself, after we talked about it a while. An informal survey: Do you prefer this poem or the Creeley? Results: Inconclusive.