Yesterday I was observing class run by a professor who's really got a handle on and dedication to Reader-response theory. I try to foster discussion and student response in literature courses, but I learned more watching this one class than I could have imaginined. Already I'm trying to incorporate what he does into what I do.
During this class Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz" was discussed, and I also read two other poems on father-son relationships (written by the son): Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" and Henry Taylor's "Breakings."
As you may have heard, my life changed a little bit this week. I think every time I've read literature on father-son relationships, I've thought of it exclusively from the son's perspective. This week, perhaps for the first time, I started thinking about the father. What the sons said about their fathers in the poem made me think about how the fathers felt about life and their sons.
I don't think it's possible to pretend that who and what we are as people has no influence on how we read. That's silly. The only way we can read is as ourselves, and everything we are, our identity, is based on such a wicked combination of place, time, experience, background, and relationships that we cannot avoid interpreting a poem from our identity.