For a great discussion of how to read and interpret a poem, go to Ron Silliman's blog entry today (June 6).
I once belonged to an online poetry workshop group where almost every single person's first question was what does this mean. There was no attempt to do an analysis, no attempt to look at the sound patterns. The idea was that if there wasn't a clear and explicit meaning in a poem, it wasn't a good poem. I thought that was hogwash and quit the group. If clear and explicit is the main criteria for poetry, why write a poem at all? Why not just write an encyclopedia entry or a news story? For me a poem's imagery and language has to get into my bones. I have to feel it. I don't always understand the writer's intent, but I can get a sense of the tone and often long after a poem has disappeared from my memory, its tone, its colour, texture and ambiance stay with me. Sylvia Plath and Gwendolyn MacEwen had that effect on me. Plath's Dark Wood, Dark Water for instance. The only thing I can remember now without reading it is the lake, shining coins dropping. A feeling of bottomlessness, of dropping.