Poetry: “What am I?” – Peter Rolls’ fiendishly cunning kenning poem

photoThe poem “What am I?”  is stretching brains around the world.  It has been considered in Cambridge, examined to within an inch of its life in Oxford, studied in the States, spotted in New Zealand, and fretted over in Farnham.

It has earned complicated answers:

Perhaps the abstract concept of “reading” or “literature” “the written page” which can contain all of the various – and semantically disconnected  – phenomena.

Words themselves seem to be connected only in that they:

 i) follow a linear pattern of reading 

ii) fulfill a specific poetic function ie) cucumber follows number not because of any direct link between the two nouns in the creation of a new way of expressing a fixed idea (as per the kenning where “bone-house” might indicate the body or “whale-road” would indicate the sea) but because it is what the specific metre and rhyme scheme require.The kenning itself is not the bringing together of new noun concepts but actually a deconstruction of poetry. The bringing together of two linguistic features “metre” and “rhyme” which  allows for the “new” noun concept to be born

The “I” seems self-referential.  Literally, it is the driving narrative force the heartbeat that keeps the poem moving. However, the implication of self transcends mere conceit and refers the poem not for what it  specifically is but for the ideal (c.f. plato’s cave) concept it represents. 

Chained the the “two-dimensional” page and following a “rectilinear” process of interpretation poetry itself is “unequivocal.” Not in that it has one potential meaning but because despite the “infinite” possibilities of composition and interpretation, each poem gains meaning only in the fixed interpretation of one reader who unites the conceptual implications in one fixed mental picture. 


There have also been more ordinary suggestions and curses – all welcome but so far none have been correct.

There remain approximately 72 hours before the answer is revealed.  It will be posted shortly before midnight, British time, on Tuesday 12 March 2013.

To help reduce stress levels I would like to reveal that the answer is not any of the following, all of which have been put forward: “fast food”; “circus”; “I”; “one”; “frame”;”picture”; “a fork”; “an alarm”; “an atom”; “the universe”; “time”; “the sun”; or “a star”.

Here is the poem again – good luck!

What am I?

I am name and I am number.
I am cornflake and cucumber.
I am many, I am few,
I am purple, I am blue.

I am two-dimensional.

I am book and I am jacket.
I am hook and I am packet.
I am product, I am price.
If you blink, I’ll charge you twice.

I am rectilinear.

Sometimes I bleep, sometimes I bloop.
I am grog from Guadeloupe.
I am hammer, I am nails,
I am things for catching snails.

I am unequivocal.

I am secret, I am code.
I am lorries by the load.
I am thick and I am thin.
Riverdance and Lohengrin.

I am infinite.

I am capsules for catarrh.
I am stuff to make you sleep.
I go ba-baa … ba-baaa,
but I am not a sheep.

What am I?

(c)  Peter Rolls


5 thoughts on “Poetry: “What am I?” – Peter Rolls’ fiendishly cunning kenning poem

  1. Pingback: Poetry: “What am I?” – Peter Rolls’ fiendishly cunning kenning poem | youthjob

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