I’ve never been one to let the lack of knowledge stand in the way of an opinion. After all, speculation is a time honored pursuit. I would agree, that in some circumstances it might be prudent to announce before hand that one is engaging in the fancies of one’s own mind rather than relying on actual known facts. This is especially so for brain surgery, mountain climbing and plane flying.
Nothing brings more satisfaction that working a problem out logically, only to later find that you were indeed right. But the penalty for being wrong is not much more than a shrug of the shoulders, so the practice continues. I recall one day a number of lawyers sat in an office and ruminated about a set of facts. We all agreed, after much discussion, that the logical result was X. Of course we were quite wrong as it turned out. Law, alas is not well known for being logical, created that way, no doubt, to keep lawyers in business.
Which leads to another conclusion, or the first conclusion, whatever. And that is, that the same set of facts can logically lead to more than one logical result. One would think not, but it seems so. There are rather famous syllogisms that prove that rather clearly.
Which leads to the topic of the day, poetry. Yes, I’m sure you had already guessed that, being the logical creature you no doubt are. Poetry is illogical to me, always has been, and more importantly, it made me feel stupid, like I was the only one in the room who didn’t get the punch line.
Yes, yes, I get the simplistic poetry, the stuff that all rhymes and even I can compose. It’s that weird stuff that seems to have words willy nilly shoved together, bumping against each other in no discernible order or, dare I say, logic. I read it furiously, then grimace, then set it down, carefully looking around to make sure nobody has seen me. God forbid they should ask, “what did you think of that?” All I could say would be the mumbling, “oh, deep, very deep. Makes one think. I’ll have to ponder long before I can follow the extensions to their ends.” Saying nothing, while saying enough to bring a nod of agreement. Ain’t language grand?
Then I learned. Or more particularly had it explained to me. It might have made some sense to the poet, or maybe not. Maybe he just liked the flow of the words, and the juxtaposition of certain phrases. But to you, the reader, it means whatever it means. It can conjure up any thought, memory or idea. There is no right or wrong. It’s meant to evoke, not make a statement.
At least some of it. I recall a prose writer or two being asked about the meaning, metaphor and allegory present in their work. “Never meant any of that,” they often insist. Such is the stuff of the literary critic, those who have created a way to make a living out of doing something unreal–telling the world what X “meant.” I’ve said the same about the art critic. Pretty much the same applies to the movie critic. You see the pattern here no doubt?
Last night we watched an interview with W.S. Merwin on Bill Moyer’s Journal. Bill kept asking, “this line, what did you mean?” and Merwin continued to reply, with something rather inane and simplistic and then turn it back on Bill, “what did it mean to you?”
Which when you think of it, is a pretty good gig. I mean, scramble and line up a bunch of words in pleasant sounding array. Then use a gimmick if possible, no capital letters, or in Merwin’s case, no punctuation. Paste a title on it that may or may not be mentioned anywhere in the piece, and voila’, a poem has emerged. Nice way to make a living, if you can do this in a way that makes people “feel” something. If not, then don’t quit your day job.
Merwin, it seems confirms my suspicions when he says that poetry emerges from what we don’t know. (See, I told you that I would connect it all up for ya!) And that also seems to be true, since we are about the business of evoking wispy feelings and thoughts, disconnected “present” moments of time. We get led to ponder the great mysteries of life as it were, and by definition, there is no “knowledge” only questions and tangents to follow to new forks in the road.