The reviewer (David Kirby) starts his book review with an anecdote that illuminates a perverse form of information irresponsibility—namely, the insistence that something cannot possibly mean what it says and must have a deeper, hidden, waiting-to-be-deciphered meaning.
Some years ago, I wrote a poem called “Broken Promises,” which was adopted by the Poetry Out Loud project for its annual competition, meaning that high school students can recite it or one of several hundred other poems and maybe advance through regional and state competitions to the nationals, where some serious money is at stake. “Broken Promises” deals with just that: the promises we break and how they limp around and gaze at us reproachfully while enjoying an immortality denied to the promises we’ve kept.
Recently, I spoke with a group of high school teachers who wanted to discuss my famous poem — rather, to tell me what it meant. “It’s about your own poems!” said one teacher, and another shouted, “I think it’s about your children!” They seemed a little crestfallen when I said, no, the poem is about the promises we break, as the title and, as far as that goes, the poem itself says.