I’ve been mildly critical of Poetry at times, 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.
No Comments “Poems To Be Experienced, Not Deciphered”
I agree with you and Kate; however, there’s a downside to letting denotation-less poems “wash over you.” Many MFA students and certain published poets (Amy KIng, for one) exploit this attitude, taking it as permission to compose wordspew, stuff that looks and sounds like mud thrown against a wall and left to dry (and be printed). This kind of poetry does more than resist paraphrasing; it aggressively flouts it, giving the poor receptive reader the realization that no matter how much he/she “experiences” the poem, nothing approaching coherence will emerge. Worse, the beauty of image and language apparent in Young’s poem are entirely missing from this kind of wordspew. Of course, most of us would rather die than seem unhip; the King in her new clothes continues to be published.
Amen to this: Imitate Young at your own peril. I’m sure he’s not the only one, too.
The word flames that ignite some hearts
will strike other’s not so tinder dry
like a wine storm of words over a glass be colder
than whispering I LOVE YOU at the bottom of a well.
There’s no doubt that poetry like Young’s is more likely to draw more hot and cold responses than, say, poetry by Frost.
or any kind of biographical verse…