A Practice in Empathy Maps

This week I’ve decided to do an experiment that will help me practice a very useful skill: creating an empathy chart. I have asked my dad to read a poem of my choosing, and I will ask him questions about the poem. These questions will be:

What do you think of the poem?

Who do you believe the speaker is?

Is there an intended audience?

Do you have a favorite line? Why?

What do you believe the message of the poem is?

Hopefully, these questions will give me enough information about how the reader, (my dad) perceives the poem, to fully ascertain what about poetry appeals to the reader. This can help me to evoke a certain feeling in my audience when I’m writing my own poetry or prose.

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This was somewhat difficult, because my dad is a pretty unreadable guy. For the doing part of the map, I just drew him sitting still in a kitchen chair, because that’s all he did. For the most part I had to take his word on the things he was saying, and it was difficult to detect anything from his demeanor or gestures. He described poem as a reminder to have courage in the face of adversity, and many of his answers remained largely on that theme. He assumes the speaker is Henley, or he imagines the speaker as a human slave or a wrongfully imprisoned man. Whoever it is, he thinks they had to have experienced great hardship and crushing challenges. He talked a lot about these challenges being war, dying, killing, and combat, so I can assume that he probably has a strong connection to these ideas at least literary, and it is a negative connection. This tells me that prose that may appeal to him would involve a hero imbued  with courageousness rising above incredible odds to become the captain of his soul. In the speaking portion of the map, I drew a podium because my dad spoke often about the sweeping declarations made in this poem, and how they carry a power that resonates with all readers. He thinks and feels that the power of this poem is universal to all audiences, and that’s why he loves about this poem and why he finds it so meaningful. His favorite lines are the final couplet of Henley’s “Invictus”, “I am the master of my fate/ I am the captain of my soul.”

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