Tuesday, 30 September 2008
Thank you for explaining that to me...
A bit tired after two late classes in a row, but one interesting thought. We are reading a good poem by one of the students, one that builds on a strange, quite visionary idea, but is framed with lovely, delicate, almost tentative irony, so the vision retains its power without bombast, when, in talking about it, another student, rather than trying to sum up in more or less abstract terms what the poem is about, conjures an image of his own, that is related to the one in the poem as if by a kind of sideways step from a fixed spot.
And I am thinking: Wait! Have I been missing something all this time? Is there some fascinating, perfectly valid process in poetry, or indeed the other arts, whereby the reader is not conducted to a statement about subject or condition, but where the original begets further originals as by a kind of chain reaction, the whole chain springing from and along the lines of a certain symbolic potential, whereby invention triggers invention. And, if so, could we posit the generating power of the poem as a kind of test of its quality, requiring that a poem rooted in the imagined tangible should lead not out of the imagination but deeper into it, into the imagined tangible.
Because, after all, the dullest thing you can say about a poem is something like: This is about jealousy and conflict, which is a move away from experience into an almost pointless generalisation about experience. It's like saying: Feel this punch on the nose? That is about anger. To which the answer might either be Thank you for explaining that to me or, say, a pinch on the cheek.
Or, to put it another way, to suggest that since a poem is an experience, not a statement about experience, a valid critical response might be framed in terms of experience rather than statement.
OK, I know it's weird. It is just that I was so taken by the listening student's response that I couldn't help thinking there was something wonderful about it, and that it must have taken a certain quality of stimulus to produce that.