The Violent Poet
POETRY FORMAT, 12 Dec 2016
Even popular usage of the terms poem and poet and poetry are meant to convey the greater virtues of humanity: play, passion, poignancy, delicacy, subtlety, contemplation, beauty, and the like. Even among those who, one might suspect, might look down upon poetry as a sign of ‘weakness’ there is a grudging acknowledgment of something lovely that should be cherished. I myself once described a monstrously athletic French skier at Taos, New Mexico as ‘poetry in motion’. Well, he was, whether he knew it or not (and I think he did).
As a person who aspires to writing the stuff – poetry – I am frequently harangued by the few of those who permit themselves to be bombarded by the fruits of my pen. Inevitably they pester me for my meaning or, even worse, my intention, in a given poem. And just as inevitably I reply that they are asking the impossible.
“What do you mean, don’t you know what you wrote?”
“A little, perhaps.”
“Stop fooling around and tell me what those lines really meant.”
“I’m not, and I can’t!”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Well then, how can I know if I’m interpreting the poem correctly?”
“Don’t worry about it: the reader can never be wrong.”
And then I usually go on to explain what I mean about this particular bit of prose: that, in fact, it is impossible for a reader of poetry to come away with an erroneous interpretation, no matter what.
“But what if I think you meant such and such?”
“Or this and that, which is the very opposite?”
“Yes, all poets must be.”
And then again, I go on, perhaps like the good Don Quijote tilting at the windmills of established pedagogy when I try to describe how any good poem conveys things that are beyond what the poet is himself/herself aware of, no matter what the conscious intent, and how the joy of poetry resides in the freedom to catalyse the unimaginably unpredictable in the realm of feeling and thought.
“But what if I’m wrong?”
“You can’t be wrong!” I finally reply.
Over time, and over a possibly excessive exposure to the poems I write, the ‘happy few’ seem to get it, and with relief they unburden themselves of the effect the poems have had on them, if any; and if any of my poems is particularly good they go on to riff in the wildest and most happily imaginable way possible as far as I’m concerned. As a poet I couldn’t ask for anything more.
So who is the ‘violent poet’? It’s the poet who insists that he or she knows so exactly what he wants to express that the reader is a poor snivelling creature of limited intelligence who cannot divine this essence, who cannot solve the riddle which the poet has so meticulously crafted. It’s the poet, in short, who has no understanding of the unconscious forces that imbue everything we humans set about to do and to create and that therefore lead to the glorious beauties of the unintended.
Then too, there is the violent teacher of poetry, who shoves down the throats of students of poetry a laundry list of precise themes and meanings.
Nonetheless poetry somehow survives, and wonderful poetry leads to wonderful reflections and feelings and strange new ideas, no matter what the poor poet set out to say in the first place.
Emanuel E. Garcia is a poet, novelist and physician who resides in New Zealand. Some of his attempts at poetry may be seen at www.emanuelegarcia.com. Enjoy what you can, but please don’t ask him what anything means, he really doesn’t know all that well . . .
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 Dec 2016.
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