Poems To Be Experienced, Not Deciphered
Posted by Ken Craft, October 30, 2017, at kencraftpoetry.wordpress.com.
I’ve been critical of Poetry on these pages, but today I come to praise its pages. Editor Don Share has started an occasional series called “The View from Here” wherein people from various fields write their personal thoughts on poetry. There are five such essays in the October 2017 issue, and one by Kate Dwyer, a freelance writer, hits a chord that is proven by a poem earlier in the magazine. First, a quote from Dwyer’s piece, “Learning to Pivot”:
“For most of my life, I thought reading poetry was like unraveling geometric proofs. Use a series of facts to solve for an unknown. Find the measure of x to solve for the last angle within a shape. Geometry had rules, and so, I thought, did poetry. The syllables of metered verse fit together like jigsaw pieces; in high school, I thought a poem was something to be solved, that the pieces were supposed to click together at its close. But these solutions never satisfied, and I suspected I was approaching verse from the wrong perspective altogether. How could I get through a creative writing degree if I couldn’t read a poem? Finally, one of the professors explained that a poem is meant to be experienced, not deciphered. He said poetry was short-form prose with line breaks, and the visceral reaction to a poem was often the most truthful. I could work with that.”
Reading thoughts like Dwyer’s is one thing; experiencing them firsthand quite another. I can think of no better proof of Dwyer’s professor’s claim than a poem earlier in this same issue, Dean Young’s “Permitted a Meadow.” Ours is not to understand, ours is simply to experience. The poem is a headscratcher, yes, but the words are oh-so-beautiful to listen to. Listen for yourself:
“Permitted a Meadow” by Dean Young
I like the blue pill best.
Just like a gladiola, its true flower
The rest is holy.
Not like in that Tintoretto
where no one knows god is dying,
just the usual jingle and squawk
from the birdmongers then sudden
downpour, a few of the demons dwelling
beneath the earth tentatively stir.
Not like that. Not tentative. Imploring.
The wound tingles.
A head of foam forms on the mountain.
Into my hand is placed a Mycenaean horse.
Into my hand is placed a waxed hand.
The filament will not break.
The fox gets closer.
5% of its life, an ant is active.
The rest is holy.
Wolfhowl ringtone is holy.
Sticking out your tongue
in the rearview mirror is holy.
Any song that never leaves the lungs,
all us animals garlanded and belled.
You could, of course, scoff at some of Dean Young’s poems for being impenetrable, but that would be because you were approaching them as math problems, like Kate Dwyer before she had her eureka moment.
What if you just permitted a poem like “Permitted a Meadow” to wash over you? What if you just freed yourself to “experience” it and that was good enough?
I think I answered my own question.
Toni says: You can find Dwyer's essay and other "views from here" in the October issue of Poetry Magazine.
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This poem is not obscure, it is whimsical and meanders via metaphors from the specific to musings about ideas that relate to the 'wound' and the paradoxical nature of holiness. Poetry like any other specialization has a language, the more you read it, the more you understand it. There are very difficult poems that require study, that require a level of education that is above the norm. Other poems are obscure because the poet is pushing language to its boundaries, you either can follow this extreme or you can't . Often it requires an imaginitive leap, to understand that a image can have many meanings, layers of meaning, and the poet may be using an image or single word or phrase in a way that is not the obvious meaning. This ambiguity is intrinsic to language. A simple noun like zebra can mean an animal but we also say 'zebra crossing' it doesn't mean zebra are walking across the road, it is lines drawn on the road where pedestrians have right of way. This ambiguity abounds in language and poets use this to create poems that have both multiple meanings and specific meanings. Some poems of course are very accessible but this can produce poetry that is dull and unadventurous. Other poems are so condensed, so obscure that it is simply not worth the trouble to try and understand them. It is a personal choice, there are no rules, no judge and jury.
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