Oh, alright, I’ll admit it: I don’t understand most poetry. It baffles me. I read it, shaking my head and scowling. I don’t even understand my own poetry. Objectively speaking, most of it’s just nonsense—like how many ‘P’s or ‘S’s can I fit into a sentence? How about if I jumble up the sentences of a politician’s speech? What if I put all the letters in this poem in alphabetical order? Does that make more sense?
Every time I start unravelling the allusions and metaphors of the poetry I like, picking apart it’s rhythmical devices and unsounding its assonance, I draw blanks, paint myself into a corner and rush off of cliffs probably not meant for rushing off of. I get lost in poetry’s circular aphorisms, its noncommital politics and trivial idiosyncratic observations—I get thrown by its semantics and semiotics, surprised by its rhyme and its imagery and derailed by its linebreaks and crazy indentations. It makes even less sense than before I started trying to fit it into my narrow view of what makes sense.
Put another way, it’s not just that I don’t understand poetry; it’s that poetry doesn’t make sense. And to take it a notch further, the little poetry I do understand, I tend to dislike—I find it banal, mundane, lacking fervour and strength and I’d like to live my life not being bothered by it. It feels like a waste of time and reading it I get a sensation more akin to having overdosed on blog comments than approaching the rapture of poetic hilarity/severity/generosity. I feel tired, uninspired and unmoved. If I feel that I can readily “understand” the poem in question—if I get a clear sense of its moral, social, political or emotional message—I brush it aside and move on. Yet I can find logical reasons for liking the poetry that I don’t like—I can see its witty metaphors, its righteous politics and metric rhythms and go: This is good.
But it’s not.
I don’t feel it.
The poetry can be as correct or incorrect as anything else, it can be as funny or right-on-target as anything else—but it remains exactly that: anything else. It does not remove itself from the constraints of everyday written or spoken language, does not leave or jolt the realm of message-giving, does not venture beyond the art form of, say, the text message or the Facebook status—both of which can contain poetry, but don’t have to. Unlike, for instance, poems—which are utterly dependent on poetry.
Not surprisingly, then, I prefer poetry that I don’t understand. It fascinates me, enlightens and illuminates me—vivifies my otherwise dormant, stagnacious soul/mind/heart/body/spirit/breath. And when I say that I like poetry I don’t understand I don’t necessarily mean dadaist odes or jumbles of Zaum—it can seem like perfectly normal text at a first glance. But it’ll contain something that’s a little off. Something jilted or tilted or tainted. A shade of imbalance.
What this boils down to is a dimension of understanding or feeling (or whatever) which I can only recognise as religious—a belief or faith which prompts the reader (or writer) to jump the gap to join the poem on the other side. Prompts unearned and unsolicited participation. To shit or get off the pot, so to speak. I don’t believe in God but I cannot disavow an illogical belief in poetry or language, because I cannot find a logical reason for liking the poetry I like or writing the poetry I write.
But, in my defence, as one benevolent critic of my poetry put it: “The work may be nonsense, but so is The Wasteland.”
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