Poetic Dedications

In my first (pre-Google) years as a teacher I was in a perpetual state of fear and trauma: someone would ask me about the obscure name in a poem’s dedication, and I wouldn’t know the answer, and I would therefore be exposed as an ignorant imposter. I’ve relaxed since, having learned that everyone is an imposter. I can always answer a student’s question like a psychotherapist: “How does it make you feel not to know?”

My latest blog for Shenandoah discusses how the presence of a dedication–famous name, cryptic initial, or some other variation on that little tag under a poem’s title–alters how you engage with the verse. I react either smugly because I’m an insider, with the guilt of half-recognition, or with anxious cluelessness, but I’m assuming some readers have a wider emotional range. Would you weigh in either here or by following the link above? I’d really like to know.

One response to “Poetic Dedications”

  1. I generally dislike dedications of poems to individuals. I apply that dislike to dedications that appear with the poem and to those that appear at the end of a collection. More often than not, they strike me as name-dropping, e.g., the poet dedicates the poem to a famous poet encountered once at a reading or in a workshop. Sometimes, too, the dedication strikes me as arrogant, as in, what a thrill it must be for this person to have my poem dedicated to him or her. Mostly, I find that the dedication feels like excess baggage, something the poem doesn’t need. If dedications don’t annoy me, they, at the very least, distract me. This attitude is probably just cranky, but I say use dedications very sparingly.


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