Member Rara Avis
Well, I suppose it was time.
It doesn't at all surprise me that this theme would surface again, because it seems to do so with only slightly less regularity than the moon. What does surprise me a little is finding people that have been at Passions a very long time (in Internet years, which are even more disproportionate than those infamous dog years) amongst those howling at this particular moon.
It's a shame that two very disparate topics (though not completely unrelated) have found themselves bound together in the same thread. Whether a poem should be read as an confessional or not really deserves more attention, I think, than it's likely to find here. Perhaps someone with thoughts on the matter will be kind enough to open a new thread? I'll even throw a little fuel on that fire by stating my own humble opinion in advance: I've read many autobiographical poems that weren't good, but I've never read a good poem that wasn't autobiographical.
The bulk of this thread, however, isn't about poetry. It isn't even about replies to poetry, though that's certainly what seems to have floated to the surface. It's really about people, about motivations, and about this strange thing we call language.
Let's talk about language first. As writers, we all know how slippery those little critters we call words can often be. We spend a lot of time, I suspect, trying to pin them down long enough to throw on a saddle. Words and language, after all, are simply vehicles, albeit important and necessary ones. Our destinations are those twin peaks we see in the distance: Meaning and Understanding. Part of our job as writers is to first insure that we and the reader are sitting in the same saddle. Only when we share that common reference can we take the reins in hand and guide our passengers to that first peak, Meaning. And only then can we hope we have chosen a steed with the endurance to take us beyond Meaning, to Understanding.
Sadly, even the best and most conscientious writers can find themselves in a different saddle from those they are trying to guide. Words are such slippery beasts! Christopher's own reply to Claire, I think, suggests this has been the case here. "I don't see beauty in this, though you use such flowing phrases," he writes, in part. "I see this indeed, with a depth of sadness that few poems can engender."
It's clear, I think, that Chris sees beauty and sadness as self-contradictions, as mutually exclusive. Sitting in that saddle, it's maybe easier to understand how he would find descriptions like "Beautiful" and "Wow" to suggest a lack of real understanding. In one sense, I think I might even agree with Christopher's interpretation of the word. Technically, it would be more accurate to describe Claire's work as "beautifully expressed," rather than as beautiful. But in a deeper sense, I would strongly disagree with his limited definition. Claire's poem, like the tragedies of Shakespeare, goes beyond Meaning into the infinitely deeper realms of Understanding. And I think there is a beauty in Truth, even a truth we find sad and otherwise ugly. But it doesn't really matter if Christopher and I can agree on the meaning of Beauty. It's just a word, after all, that most slippery of beasts. What does matter, and I think what has caused so much confusion, is that we should at least agree and recognize that we do hold different definitions for the word.
I think Claire's poem was beautiful. If Chris recognizes that I'm sitting in a different saddle, a saddle where beauty and ugliness can not only coexist but can even mean the same thing, then perhaps he can also recognize I found the same Understanding in the poem he did - even if I choose to express my discovery differently. And trust me, Chris, I did read the poem.
And that brings us back to the moon still circling in the sky, and to our propensity for howling at it. Because in all likelihood, I will express myself differently than will Christopher. This would be a very boring world if all of us were sitting in the same saddles and all seeking the same Understanding. Fortunately, there's little danger of that boredom finding us here! I think it's very easy and all too common to assign our own motivations to other people. It may even be inevitable and necessary. But I think we all know that doing so holds hidden dangers.
Many of you have touched upon what I consider the very essence of these forums, perhaps even the essence of poetry. We are all different. What we write is certainly different, but so too is why we write. And as many of you have recognized, why we post what we write is equally different as well. There was a time - and it really wasn't all that long ago - when these forums were comprised of a mere handful of people. Even then there were differences, of course, but the differences weren't as great as they are today. We were able to learn from each other, I think, to grow together, I think, and I know we were able to develop some very strong and lasting ties that went far beyond the simple words we posted. It was good.
I'm going to go back to a time when someone who is now very much a part of the foundation at Passions first joined us. There was already a small, core group of poets posting in a hidden forum when he first surfaced, though many of you may well be surprised to think of Balladeer as a "newbie." But I still remember my first introduction to his work, and I recall the immense pleasure and satisfaction he brought to the group. I learned more about poetry and story-telling and building to a conclusion from Balladeer in a week than I had learned in the several months of posting with all the other great poets that were part of our small enclave. It was his work, and that of a few others that joined us shortly afterwards, that convinced me our small, intimate assembly should be allowed to grow. He taught me what many of you have since come to recognize, what perhaps some of you have always known. As a small, closed group we were strong, but as an open, diverse group our strength was multiplied by far more than simply our numbers.
Passions, I think, is unique. It is our commonalties that have made us a family, but it is our differences that make us enduring. There are other places on the Internet, small and closed, that have developed a sense of family. There are many more, large and open, that have discovered the strength of our diversity. None have managed to combine the two as we have here.
Our commonalties and the sense of family it gives us are important, and I'm sure none of us would ever want to lose that. But neither can we afford to sacrifice our diversity in the interests of maintaining commonality. We insist on Respect & Tolerance, and perhaps because like draws like, we continue to attract people who sincerely care about other people. Those are our commonalties, I think. Those make us a family. But if we force people to post in a common mold, either their poetry or their replies, we are in serious danger of losing our diversity. There is no "right" reason to post poetry. There is no "right" way to respond to poetry. There are a plethora of reasons, one for every registered Member, and a multitude of ways. You don't have to agree with every reason, nor do you have to appreciate every way of responding. But I sincerely believe that if you try to understand them, you can at least learn to respect them. When sincerely given with respect there are no short replies, there are no non sequitor replies, there certainly are no demeaning replies - there are only gifts freely offered from one person to another, from one writer to another. The gift might not be the one you would have liked, and it very likely won't be the one you would have given - and therein lies our strength.
As for the distinction between the "sincerity" and "quality" of a response, I find the arguments moot. No one has seemingly questioned the sincerity, nor can we until instruments are developed to peer within the heart and mind of another, but I think it's equally impossible to question the quality of a response. Quality is determined by purpose. And if we all approach our poetry with a different purpose isn't it likely our responses are probably a reflection of our own purpose? I applaud Brad and Jim and all the others for their devotion to better learn our craft, and especially for their willingness to help others learn. I suspect, by now, everyone here knows where I stand on learning and bettering ourselves. But not everyone at Passions is here for that reason, and even those eager to learn won't do so through the same mechanism. I play golf (very badly). I play because I enjoy the sun and the opportunity to spend time with a few close friends. If I learn a better swing through osmosis, by watching someone who knows more about it than do I, I consider that a bonus for the day. It makes me feel good, but it's not why I play. And having one of my friends constantly trying to correct my swing only intrudes on the reasons why I do play. I guess I'm fortunate to have friends who are willing to put up with my ineptitude and respect my reason for being there. I'd even like to think they appreciate the fact I'm there because of them and not because I enjoy chasing a ball I could have just as easily kept in my bag to start with. Someday, if I continue, perhaps I'll be motivated to improve my game. For now, though, it's enough to just play. And isn't that where learning always starts?
In closing (and yea, I know it's about time!), I'd like to touch on one last thing. Something I think is important.
Everyone in this thread, and in similar ones posted lately, has done an admirable job of adhering to the letter of our guidelines. I question, however, whether everyone has followed the spirit of those guidelines. Open opinions are good. Dissention is part of diversity. Misunderstandings are inevitable. Mix those with Respect & Tolerance, and Passions will continue to grow and prosper, and I'd like to think those who post here will also grow. Mix those with disdain for the feelings of others, however, and our happy home will dissolve into just another cauldron of bitterness. There are enough of those on the Internet, and in real life, and I doubt we need another. You don't have to agree with everyone. You don't even have to like everyone.
But I would hope we can all learn to respect everyone's right to be different.