Thursday, November 18, 2010

Then there is the subject matter...

I have come to believe that the kind of meaning a poem has is like the kind of meaning a dream has: intense, loaded with symbols, quirky, personal and obscure. For that matter, many of the best novels and movies have that kind of meaning too. Think of The Big Sleep: a storyline so confused that even the original writer, Raymond Chandler, confessed he had no idea who murdered the chauffeur, yet a marvelous movie nonetheless. Perhaps the illogical sequence of statements in the poem is meant to shock the reader into this kind of realization -- that we are now in "The Twilight Zone," where different rules apply.

Then there is the subject matter, for example, the illogical contradictions involved in American democracy — we demand honesty from politicians, yet our real demands force them into dishonesty. And the contradictions involved in Rimbaud’s decision to be a poet, then his decision not to be a poet ever again. Both these contradictory positions were held with fervent sincerity. As a youth he despised the bourgeoisie, yet he spent all his adult life as a hard-working trader, a petty capitalist. So is poetry just a superior kind of interior decoration, that the older (and wiser?) Rimbaud was right to despise? What happens to the anti-bourgeois tirades of the outsider artist when they are marketed by savvy publishing houses to the very bourgeoisie these artists supposedly excoriate?

-- John Tranter, on a poem of his in the December "Q&A" issue of Poetry

1 comment:

Shelley said...

If illogic could shock us into realization, then after eight years of the Bush administration, we would all have already reached total enlightenment by now.