Recently, I was interviewed by Kevin Cooper. He’s from the UK and runs a series of publications dealing with books and music. He asked several thought-provoking questions and I enjoyed digging through my life for the answers.
Kevin is a generous person, putting his energy to help other authors. If you’re interested, you might consider doing an interview with him as well. Details on his web site. Thank you Kevin.
Noris Roberts, a Venezuelan poet is an Ambassador of Peace. She presents her poems in her international project, a project in which others poets and musicians participate by reading her work and composing music to accompany it. The completed works are then published on her YouTube channel.
As Noris says:
I'm in the process of recording some of her works and putting music to them. As you may know, I love doing this kind of thing and this project is certainly for a good cause. Please note that Noris and others participate on a volunteer basis and that she isn’t looking for contributions or subsidies.
It seems that most people who read poetry want to understand it. They want to be able to “get it.” If you’re at a table discussing somebody’s work, you’re likely to hear comments that focus on the meaning of the piece, comments that either (a) praise the unambiguous language as a direct line to the meaning of the work, or (b) seek to decipher the metaphorical and symbolic significance of the words.
It’s generally in the second case that we run into differences of understanding. It’s here that we enter into the uncertainty of interpretation. And it is here where we find the most complaints of inaccessibility, complaints that the work is not understandable, complaints that are based on a subjective ability to make sense of the words.
Open Your Arms
But it’s not necessary to understand a poem in order to enjoy it. If you are able to extract some sense of resonance with a piece, whether or not you understand it in the literary sense, whether or not you can articulate what it is about the piece that resonated with you or what the piece is “about”, then the piece has reached you at some level and therefore has been effective.
Everybody has a threshold of understanding beyond which they don’t want to go. I do indeed find some works to be – as DE Navarro so elegantly put it – “a pile of esoteric, obfuscating goo.” Other times though, I catch a thread of something that may be difficult to explain – or fully understand – but I have an intuitive sense that there’s something deeper, and I might just have to dwell on it for a while, maybe come back to it later. Or just let it be the sweet aroma of fog.
Dignity Of Understanding
As westernized human beings, we tend to be rational. We want explanations with those fries. It’s almost as if: when something can’t be explained, it doesn’t exist. Interpretations and explanations give us an opportunity to identify with a school of thought, to find like-minded individuals with whom we can form a collective. And frequently, in a sort of coagulating force, people are drawn to the interpretations of others.
But in the arts, unlike science, explanations – which are a form of rationalization and understanding – aren’t needed as much. Yes, sometimes they’re helpful, especially in the lecture hall, but in the end, the individual must decide what something means to them. Instead of handing out explanations as gospel from the creator (or more often, from the creator’s professor proxy), it’s healthy to our thought processes when we encourage the readers / listeners / observers to draw their own conclusions.
Most people don’t want to look dumb. They generally avoid that which they don’t “understand” or – in lieu of avoidance – passively accept the prevailing explanations and interpretations of their day.
But there is another way of looking at this. As with life, poetry is a vehicle for more than rational thought. It can propel us into the into the unknown, the unfamiliar. And we don’t always need to know where we are. We don’t always need to explain how we arrived there. Sometimes, it’s enough to simply realize – and marvel in the fact – that other worlds exist.
This morning, when I logged in to LinkedIn, I came across a photo of a U.S. Army soldier holding a cardboard sign that reads: “If you support the troops please ‘like’ this picture. We need your support”. When I saw it, there were more than 43,000 ‘likes’ and more than 2,400 comments. Many of the comments were of the “Thank you” or “God bless you for your service” variety, although some comments appropriately pointed out that the whole idea of supporting the troops by clicking a ‘like’ icon from the comfort of your chair is not only ineffective but absurd and lazy as well.
This is the sort of thing in which people participate as a feel-good exercise. It’s nothing more than jumping on some quasi-popular craze to collect intangible bonus points on a social media site. It’s yellow-ribbon bumper stickers without the need to get up and go to the garage.
If you really want to support the troops, do something real. Give some money to a veterans organization. Volunteer your time to work with returning vets. Write letters to your representatives. Bring some chocolates to a hospital. Or – if you’re of the right age – get out of your chair and join the military.
Better yet: put your time and energy towards efforts to reduce the need for so many troops. Work for the cause of peace. Organize events. Speak out at events. Do what you can to reduce the number of men and women coming home mangled or dead.
These sorts of things go a lot farther in demonstrating “support for troops” than mindlessly hopping on some patriotic-click-me bandwagon. It’s not mandatory to support troops, but if you really do, then quit faking it on LinkedIn or Facebook. Get out and do something.