“Her Door” – Form/Universality/Structure as Doors to Greater Significance

Mary Leader’s “Her Door” (page 70-71) seems to extend beyond the diary-like, self-obsessed possibilities inherent to the retrospective-prospective structure and achieve greater meaning.  It definitely seems that Leader’s poem is rooted in lived/emotional truth; the bittersweet joy/pain of motherhood in watching a daughter go from girl to woman is believable in her piece.  She hits the expected emotional chords, especially when she reminisces about brushing her young daughter’s hair and bathing her in the third stanza and recalls that “Those days, to rock her was to say a prayer” in the fifth stanza.  She is not saccharinely sentimental, and thus, we believe her confession/recollection to be emotionally/literally true.

            I think a variety of factors contribute to this poem’s “push” beyond the author’s individual experience, mainly the form, the universality of the content, and the unique execution of structure. 

            First, as Yakich writes, the poem is a “variation on the villanelle” (71), characterized by a definite rhyme scheme.  This formal consistency certainly adds to the literary/artistic value of the piece, not just because it is in a form, but because it is a well-executed product of form; in this way the poem is an example both of good writing and of good form.  Leader adds to this formal unity/consistency in returning to the images of both the door and the speaker’s drawing.

            Second, the universality of the content – the idea of a daughter growing up and eventually leaving home – is accessible and thus takes the poem beyond the writer and the speaker, to the audience.  It is thus a piece that holds meaning for all those who can relate to it.

            Third, Leader takes the retrospective-prospective structure and, instead of using it to create two distinct parts – past and present – that follow each other in logical chronological order, she effects a retrospective-prospective turn in almost every stanza.  The third line of each stanza is a present transposition of the two lines previous in the past (with the exceptions of the third and fifth stanzas, which are all in the past).  This also seems to speak to the experience of motherhood, another feather in this poem’s cap, as a mother does not experience her daughter’s growing-up as something instantaneous.  This shift does not occur immediately, as from one stanza to the next, but happens instead gradually over time, with frequent indicators, steps forward and backward.  The poem actually serves as a good metaphor for what I imagine this experience is like.

            I think it’s essential to push poems beyond personal experience for them to reach full potential beyond catharsis for the writer.  I’m not sure that I always achieve this, as nine times out of ten I find what I’m writing is rooted at least somewhat in the realm of lived experience, but it’s certainly my goal to push beyond “confession,” and maybe examining more closely what I’m doing with structure is one avenue for achieving this.  I definitely don’t think there’s any one prescribed way to push beyond the personal to give it greater significance.  

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