Member Rara Avis
TasteOfOctober said I think of poetry on a much bigger scale. I mean, as the driving force of life and existence and yes, even change. A force that simply is. Much like the majority view on God.
Encompassing, but it doesn't change my point. Whether I'm going to worship God or poetry, I still want to understand both as best I'm able. And that inevitably means categorizing and applying labels.
If you are arguing that all poetry has "something" in common with all other poetry, then I agree. Every animal on Earth has something in common with every other animal. If you are arguing there is no discernible difference between poems and they thus cannot be classified, then I obviously disagree. Mammals and reptiles have commonalties, but they also have singular differences. A failure or refusal to recognize those differences only leads to foolish attempts to shave a snake. It also makes it impossible for us to ever talk about mammals or reptiles. Our conversations will always be limited to talking about animals.
serenity blaze said But we do remember the rules of the game, but isn't new form of Art created when we dare to reach and be innovative?
Absolutely. But innovation, by definition, is something new, and barring dumb luck, the only way to be consciously innovative is to first understand what has gone before. Otherwise, again barring dumb luck, we're just repeating the mistakes of others. And that's not necessarily a bad way to learn. I just question whether it's always the best way.
serenity blaze said The lines come in very handy when learning form. But I try not to let the definitions define me.
We are ALL, I think, defined by our definitions. It is the commonality that binds us to each other and allows us to communicate. The all-too-common tragedy is when our definitions only partially mesh and the inevitable result is miscommunication and misunderstanding. That's why I feel threads and questions like this one are a good thing. Agreeing on our definitions (or agreeing to disagree) leads to better communication and greater understanding.
serenity blaze asked Just how responsible are we for the effect our words have on others? I've asked this many times, and yes, the standard answer is "we are responsible for everything we do."
But I can't help but think of Salinger and "Catcher In The Rye." OR? THE BIBLE. Do we really hold an author responsible for a reader's interpretation?
littlewing said No way are we responsible for an interpretation by someone else . . . we write what we feel - they see what they see
I can only offer my own opinion, of course, but I suspect both Karen and Sue already know I'm going to disagree with their inference. I believe we ARE responsible for everything we do, and that is most especially true of the words we write.
Obviously, someone somewhere is inevitably going to read something into our words that we never intended. Is that our fault? It would be very easy to say no, it's not our fault, but the minute we do that, we abrogate ALL of our responsibilities. We can't be a little bit responsible for what we write, we can't even be mostly responsible. It's all or it's nothing. We choose our audience, we choose our themes, we choose our words, we determine the meaning and the clarity of everything we write. It is always OUR responsibility to get it right.
But still, someone somewhere is inevitably going to read something into our words that we never intended? Does that mean we should stop trying? No, but in my opinion, it does mean we need to be aware of the risks we run and insure that the benefits of what we write at least outweigh the dangers. Salinger, I think, did that, as did the writer of the Bible. In The Catcher in the Rye, vulgarity is balanced with honesty, and darkness with an innocent, sometimes hilarious, naivete. Holden Caulfield is a real person, from which we can learn much the same lessons we learn from Hamlet or Stephen Dedalus or Huckleberry Finn. The Bible, in a very different way, offers an often intentional ambiguity that leads to more powerful insights than truths given to us on a silver platter ever will. Both Catcher and the Bible can be, and certainly have been, misunderstood. But I think the respective writers knew that, expected it, and considered it an acceptable cost for what was being offered.
Ready for one my analogies?
Your responsibility as a writer is very little different than your responsibility as a parent. Every single thing you choose to do or not do affects your child for good or bad. It is NOT the child's job to figure out what we mean.
We know we're not perfect parents, but we all want to believe that the good far outweighs the bad, else none of us could ever find the courage or strength to be parents. That doesn't mean, as parents or as writers, we should ever blithely accept the bad. Having done twenty or fifty or a hundred good things this week doesn't mean we can lock our kid in the closet for the night, because while the good can outweigh the bad, it never eliminates our continuing responsibility for both. Our responsibility to our children is all-encompassing. So, too, is our responsibility to our readers.
Of course, if all parents were a Robert Young or a Harriet Nelson, society would need no rules for child abuse or neglect. And most of the rules in these forums would be completely unnecessary if everyone here was a Salinger, or a Shakespeare, or a Ginsberg. (And they would be unenforceable if anyone was God.) Poetry about suicide, drugs, or vulgarity carry an enormous risk of being misinterpreted, but that danger can and often has been balanced by a good writer's sense of responsible truth and insight. Risks can be accepted when balanced with corresponding or greater benefits. As writers, I think we must be willing to accept the responsibility for both.
Our rules do exist, however, because what we too often see from fledgling writers is all of the risks and almost none of the benefits. "I died for love" is a lie and a cliché, blood and guts is sensationalism and a cliché, and profanity that characterizes the author and not a narrator is just vulgar, disrespectful and a cliché. These unbalanced poems, perhaps, need to be written if the fledgling writer is to become the accomplished writer. Sharing them here, however, only actualizes the risk and perpetuates the clichés.
I'm going to go out on a limb, and in all likelihood irritate quite a few people, by suggesting that poetry flowing directly from the heart to the pen will very rarely represent a suitable balance between risk and benefit, and I think that is especially true of dark poetry because the risk is so much greater.
The emotions of a given moment, what the writer is feeling with pen in hand, are too typically one-dimensional to be balanced. Holden Caulfield is a memorable, well-rounded character because Salinger showed us both the light and the dark, the risk and the corresponding gain. I have no doubt his story came from the heart, but only after being mediated by the mind. Salinger didn't romanticize a single moment of darkness. He explored a much wider world, knowing that just as light cannot exist without darkness, the darkness cannot be seen or experienced in the absence of light. Writing from the heart is only the start of good poetry, a path every writer must find for themselves and, having found it, must be willing to leave so they can explore the edges and alleys and occasional crossroads that will lend balance and depth. That is true of all poetry, I think, but it is especially true of dark poetry.
The danger and risk, I think, is that some writers, both fledgling and accomplished, feel the only way to survive the dark is to embrace the dark, to welcome it, to become it. In doing that, I feel they lose the balance and destroy the truth. Life isn't butterflies and beautiful sunsets. But no matter how dark the night, those butterflies and sunsets still exist in some unseen corner of everyone's world, and to deny them is no less a lie than denying the night.
Dark poetry isn't about escaping the light. It is about learning to survive in the dark.
On a related note, I hear a lot of very talented writers say they don't want their poetry to have a single meaning, that they want every reader to take from it whatever they can find. In my opinion, they have mistaken depth, which is always a good thing, for ambiguity, which is rarely good. Poetry shouldn't be a Rorschach test, where we throw ink on a piece of paper, squish it together, and then see what the observer "gets" out of it. Depth, I think, comes from the complexity of the theme and of the author's psyche, not from intentional ambiguity. When a reader takes something from a work that was not intended, it's most often because the complex unconsciousness of the writer put them there.
Yes, Karen, in my opinion "we are responsible for everything we do," including how others interpret what we write. I also recognize, however, that this seemingly simple declaration is anything but simple. There are shadows within shadows, and at least one very glaring paradox.
If we are to be responsible for everything we do, the not so obvious corollary has to be that the actions of others must be their responsibility and never ours. We can open the door, but what someone does on the other side of that door isn't our fault. The paradox is that we are still responsible for our words, still responsible for the effect they have on others, but can no longer be held responsible for the actions to which our words may incite others. A paradox, indeed.
Yet, in paradox we often find truth. To return to my earlier analogy, a parent is responsible for everything they teach their child, but no parent yet has found a way to live the child's life for them. We have to do everything right that we possibly can, and then, as the child grows older, stand aside and pray to God it was enough. To paraphrase John Donne, no child "is an island, entire of itself; every [child] is a piece of the continent, a part of the main" that is the parent's (and the writer's) legacy.
Accept your responsibility to the reader, just as you accept your responsibility to your child.
Write every story, every poem, every line as if it was being read by your daughter or son, at whatever age they might be when they need to hear your words. Give them the same honesty you give them now, the same love, and when necessary, the same toughness. It is your responsibility to get it right. Accept that responsibility, remember it, and you just might get it right more often than wrong. At least, that, I think, is what will keep most of us going.