Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Poem Deaf

I have never been able to make heads nor tails of most poetry. I don't know why. I could chalk it up to plain stupidity, but I think I'm reasonably knowledgeable and have a decent command of the English language. However, when I read most poetry, it's just words that don't convey any coherent message to me. Or the only message I get from it is so insipidly literal and mundane that it's surely not what or all the author intended. I may understand some of the symbolism or allusions, but, like I said, when I try to weave everything together into a unified story, scene, or message that makes sense, I can't.

For this reason, I've stayed away from most poetry and even song lyrics and stuck largely with prose and instrumental music respectively. Simon and Garfunkle songs are one of the only notable exceptions I can think of to this. I always seemed to "get" many of their songs (although I never had a clue about Baby Driver ). But I'm not sure what that says about the quality of Paul Simon's lyrics or my capacity for comprehension.

I bought a book recently that I hope will help me understand poetry better and appreciate it more. I'll have more to say about it later, after I've worked my way through it or at least started to do so.

In the meantime, I'd like so share with you one of my feeble attempts at writing poetry. I wrote it when I was a lot younger and even more foolish than I am now. It was my attempt to capsulize my philosophy of divine Oneness and apply it to the alienation and loneliness I felt at the time:

Whichever Way You Go

Dear and troubled friend.
Can you see without without within, or within without without?
Look to yourself and see Tao .
Look to Tao and see yourself.
Either Way or no Way, it doesn't matter how.
Tao takes care of itself.

Whichever way you go, Tao is sure to flow.
So, what's the problem?

Now do you see why I and poetry don't mix very well? :-)


Tom said...

You undoubtedly are a T instead of an F on the Briggs-Myers [or is it Myers-Briggs, I ferget]. That is, a thinker instead of a feeler.

But that is not the problem -- not that THAT would be a problem.

First off, most people THINK they have figured out everything, whereas they really haven't. You don't appreciate that you HAVE figured out everything and it is just that everything isn't really that interesting.

As for Baby Driver, it is just a song with some jejune, vague sexual suggestion. I would guess that the lyrics just seemed to come to Paul and he accepted them without over analysing things.

After the fact, I would bet some Freudian got hold of the lyrics and put a magnifying glass to them and now they have something to do with fear of commitment and premature ejacultion. But THAT is all just a bunch of hoo-ha.

-- Tom <-- thinks he knows everything

cousin dupree said...

I thought it had to so with Jack Kerouac's daughter, Jan, who wrote the book "Baby Driver," but I guess that came later.

In any event, I am fascinated by this notion of being "unable to comprehend poetry." I cannot quite wrap my mind around it, for how does one understand language without understanding poetry? How is one not reduced to a machine or computer? How could one possibly understand scripture or anything else above the material plane?

You will forgive me if I mention this to my master as a possible topic. Who knows, perhaps he will write a poem about it, which might cause you "double confusion," and therefore comprehension, since the multiple of two negatives is a positive.

The meaning of poetry is analogous to melody, which is composed of numerous notes that are synthesized in the listener's mind. More sophisticated music has a multitude of implicit connections that are synthized in the listener, so that a hyperdense nonlocal musical "object" emerges in consciousness. Language is no different.

Nagarjuna said...

<< and now they have something to do with fear of commitment and premature ejacultion. But THAT is all just a bunch of hoo-ha. >>

Maybe not, Tom. Maybe not. :-)

Dupree, I think even your "master" would have a difficult time wrapping his mind around me. I am a very peculiar person.

Tom said...

Possibly, I am Poem Deaf, too.

But I do think it is truly the case that ninety-something percent of poetry is simply bad or inept. People who are filled with romantic notions -- i.e. eighth-grade girls -- maintain a claim of love of poetry because it becomes part of their identity.

If you claim to love poetry then you identify yourself to the world as a deeper, more-spiritual human being.

Basically, there's an Emperor's new clothes factor here.

If you want the world to think of you in a certain way or if you want to think of yourself as spiritual and sensitive, then you buy a bunch of books of poetry for the bookshelf.

For the most part I think prose can evoke anything poetry can without the artifice and artificiality of poetry's clipped phrasing.

Nagarjuna said...

I suspect that some of what you say is true, Tom, and that not only do many people adopt poetry reading as an affectation, but also that good prose can say virtually everything poetry can and do it just as well if not better. However, I also suspect that the best poetry is worth reading and appreciating on its own terms, whether or not I'm ever able to effectively do it.

Finding Fair Hope said...

I once had a friend who didn't understand poetry, then I wrote him a poem and he understood that. Now he doesn't understand art. Too bad I can't paint.

He certainly didn't understand my blogposts about art, or any of the comments they produced.

Well, you've got to start somewhere...I think you understand poetry better than you think you do. Just please don't say it's phony if you can't understand it. If you buy a bunch of books of poetry, read them in an attempt to respond to them, not just to make it look as if you do.

Nagarjuna said...

<< If you buy a bunch of books of poetry, read them in an attempt to respond to them, not just to make it look as if you do. >>

FFH, the book I did buy and to which I alluded in my post is Camille Paglia's "Break, Blow, Burn." I'll begin by working my way through its poems and Paglia's commentary, and then we'll see where things go from there.

Tom said...

Ah, btw, I think YOUR poem is pretty damn good. I didn't read it carefully 'till now.