Monday, June 27, 2011

Experiencing a poem

I do feel that people's expectations are misdirected when all they want is to understand a poem. It is one of the exasperating things about the way poetry is taught. It is assumed that an understanding of the poem is the same as the experience of the poem. Often the experience of a poem—a good poem—will elude understanding. Not totally, of course, but enough, enough to have us be close to what lies just out of reach. I think that for most poets in the writing of their poems there is a point when language takes over and they follow it. Suddenly, it just sounds right. In my case—and I don't like to bring myself up in this way—I trust the implication of what I am saying, even though I am not absolutely sure of what it is that I am saying. I'm just willing to let it be. Because if I were sure of whatever it was that I said in my poems, if I were sure, and I could verify and check it out and feel, 'yes, I've said what I intended,' I don't think that poem would be smarter than I am. At any rate, to get back to what I was saying a moment ago: it is 'beyondness,' or that depth that you reach in a poem that keeps you returning to it. I suppose you have to like being mystified. That which can't be explained away or easily understood in a poem, that place which is unreachable or mysterious, is where the poem becomes ours, finally becomes the possession of the reader. I mean, in the act of figuring it out, of pursuing meaning, of trying to characterize the experience of it, the reader is absorbing the poem; even though there's an absence there or something that doesn't quite match up with his experience, it becomes more and more his. And what becomes his is, of course, generated by language, language designed to make him feel connected to something that he doesn't understand. He comes into possession of a mystery, and instead of being frightened by it, he feels that he has some control over it. But does he? Or is it simply that language has permitted him the illusion of control? My own experience suggests that language allows me the feeling that it can go only as far as my consciousness will take it, even though I know the opposite is true, that I go where language leads. And it leads me again and again to the sense that it is holding something back, that it contains more than I can possibly grasp, that mysteries exist, and are encountered most seductively in poems. I even feel at times that poems are the protective shell of the seductiveness of language. What am I talking about? Even the meaning of the phrase I've just uttered suddenly eludes me. - Mark Strand

1 comment:

  1. You don't have to be an oceanographer to enjoy the ocean. Leaving the beach takes a commitment to swimming.

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