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Friday, July 14, 2017

Quotidian words, or enigmatic riddles- what should poetry be?

In the New York Times, Matthew Zapruder wrote "One of the great pleasures of reading poetry is to feel words mean what they usually do in everyday life...".  He suggests that a good poem never hides its meaning:
But now, commenting to the note on the Poetry Foundation's site, poet and translator Johannes Göransson disagrees.  He suggests that sometimes good poems do hide their meaning:
He says "Zapruder mostly reiterates a dominant U.S. rhetoric about poetry and art, a rhetoric that tends to dismiss the excessive and the strange, emphasizing the importance of "accessible" poetry", and suggests "If we can leave behind the constant injunction of our gatekeepers and tastemakers to comply with aesthetics of the "straightforward," we can embrace intense meadows and ecstatic riddles. Jäderlund, Hopkins, Zurita, Lynch, Jefferson all offer a different route, an ecstatic, visionary route that says: poetry is a strange force that can take over your minds and bodies, transport you out of what you think you know and take you into a new kind of mysterious knowledge."

A new battle in an old war.  But, does a weird and ecstatic poem necessarily have to be one that can't be literal? Possibly they're both right.


2 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

as long as a poem has resonance, as long as it suggests meaning to me, I'm good with it. I don't need to understand it completely to enjoy it. In fact, I often enjoy poems I don't completely understand the most.

Diane said...

When I responded to this post on Facebook yesterday, I had not yet read Zapruder's essay, reading the NYT, as I do, in paper. So it didn't arrive at my doorstep till this morning.

I don't think you have misrepresented the disagreement between the two men, but I do think the place you chose to ellipse Zapruder's quote over-simplifies what he said, which in the full sentence was this:

"One of the great pleasures of reading poetry is to feel words mean what they usually do in everyday life, AND ALSO START TO MOVE INTO A MORE CHARGED, ACTIVATED REALM." (Emphasis mine.)

Zapruder throughout his essay suggests that while the poem be understandable, its languaged is bifurcated, heightened and not just "every day." This is what Atkins meant in the example that I gave (on Facebook) of his revising, saying he was going "to complicate it." Atkins has never cared whether anyone understood or liked his poetry (at least not enough to change what it was), but he wasn't trying to make the poem complicated to understand. He was trying to use words anew.

And that newness-- or as Zapruder puts it-- that chargedness, that activation-- of language can be offputting to some people. It's why Zapruder has his students go off and study ONE WORD in a poem, to gain an appreciation of how important each word in a poem is.

I think too it is what Oberlin poet Lynn Powell means for her upcoming September OPA workshop at Malabar Farm when she writes, "so our poems succeed only when the words themselves thrill the reader. In our weekend workshops, we will explore ways to enliven the language in our poems. Most importantly, we’ ll explore how words themselves—their sounds, textures, nuances, registers of voice, and varied vocabularies—can function as the Muse, and how our richest ideas often come through a collaboration with language itself."

Cited...

The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau