Friday, April 9, 2010

Whose poem is it, anyway?

If even the silent reading of a poem, to get to know it, is a form of interpretation, then I no longer see how one can form a historical judgment of a poem, if knowing it means creating another poem in one's own mind. Should we be judging this other one?

- Cesare Pavese


Brian S said...

I like to quote Miller Williams to my second-year interpretation of poetry students. He basically said that a poem comes into existence when the imagination of the poet and the imagination of the reader meet inside an act of language. The poem on the page is the ground on which the meeting takes place. I realize that's not a particularly radical position to take, but it's worked for me for quite some time.

Joseph Hutchison said...

The key here of course is the idea of "historical judgment." It is impossible. Think Shakespeare is safe? Think again. A hundred years from now he may be replaced by (shudder) Kenny Goldsmith. Or Jewel. Or Don Share. Or me! (Why not?) It's the mania for judgment that's sick--what Dylan (not Thomas) calls "the disease of conceit." Do I really think that my preferences are coordinate with the judgments of unborn readers? Of course not. What would inspire such hubris? Fear of death. The idea of historical judgment is nothing more than the infantile shriek inspired by fear of death. Something Pavese knew quite a bit about.

Don Share said...

Great comments, guys. Thank you.