Where does a poem exist?

May 21, 2009 at 7:25 am | Posted in blogging, links, writing | 17 Comments
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“I’ve always liked your emphasis on poetry as communication, a way of binding communities. It marks a very fundamental difference in thinking with wide implications. In my mind making the distinction between poetry as selfexpression and poetry as communication leads one to an emphasis on traditional craft as opposed to unrestrained experimentation for its own sake.”

Squires to Barbara Jane Reyes.

I was thinking today that this train of thought which begins “Is poetry a form of self expression or a form of communication?” can also lead to a question I encountered over at Geof Huth‘s, “Where does a poem exist?” If it is simply an expression, when it has gone from inside the head of the poet onto the page, it is finished and lies flat as piece of text, an artefact.

If it is an act of communication the poem exists as an alive thing, an event in the mind of the reader or listener and the text becomes just a device, a link, a catalyst for creating waves of change.

Lately I have been thinking I should comment less and instead turn them into posts with links but I’m lazy and don’t have the time.

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  1. thanks! though i ought to add, that like blog, the MFA is also just a tool. cheers, bjr
    You’re welcome, Barbara Jane.

  2. i like the lines, i think it sums all the long talk that can be about the question you brought up
    Thankyou

  3. A poem is a collaborative thing. In one sense is does of course exist purely as a printed record of the poet’s thoughts in the same way as I exist as a man alone in this room but as soon as my wife comes in I’ll morph into ‘the husband’. Of course when my daughter comes to visit us God alone knows who I am.

    My poems exist in my mind. I have clear associations with most of them; I remember where they were written, what was going on in my life, even what pen I used. No one else is privy to those associations and so the poem will be different – to a greater or lesser extent – depending on the experiences of each reader.

    As vehicles of communication poems, even ‘bare bones’ poems like mine, are notoriously inefficient at communicating; they suggest rather than state, they evoke rather than present. Intent is irrelevant once a reader has a poem in his hands, once he has taken possession of it; it becomes his and it’s no longer the poet’s.

    To answer the question directly – “Is poetry a form of self expression or a form of communication?” – I would have to say that it is both and more. To suggest otherwise is to limit its potential.
    Ahh, Jim, you are the foremost scholar of poetical thinking in all bloggodom. Superb explication, thankyou.

  4. I like to think poetry is a form of communication, and a catalyst for change, but that might be because I often speak (or rant) my poems rather than write them down.

    Paul, I am combing your blog-haunts and finding gems hidden everywhere. You are the best internet poetry guide ever!
    Cool, that’s what it’s all about, Maxine. Community, resource, you are the best slam poet ever! Did that invite come from the Obama’s yet?

  5. My thoughts echo Jim’s, I guess. A poem is different things to different people. (What isn’t?)Whatever it is can change from one reading to the next. We may share symbols, but we don’t share a brain. Even when spoken, the voice is different things to different listeners. Does your recorded voice sound the same to you as your voice inside your head? If Jim or Maxine or Popeye the sailor man and I listen to you read, do we “hear” the same thing? I love the smell when someone opens a new can of coffee. Sniff-aaaah. But it makes my husband sneeze. I have no idea what that means, but I felt like typing it. I would also like to take this opportunity to say I don’t like ampersands. They look bloated and full of themselves. I prefer a hard edge, all hands reaching out. +++++++++++++ Beauteous, don’t ya think?
    Thank, Agnes. The problem with the kind of relativism you suggest, that everything is different for everyone, is that it makes it very hard to construct any kind of general discussion about things. Although, we can conclude that if everyone is hearing a different thing, the idea that the point of poetry is to acheive some kind of ‘authentic voice’ is a bit silly. I see this line of thinking is going to lead to every writers voice is an artificial construct and the end of confessional poetry which I dislike as much as you dislike the ampersand.

  6. If you try to catch it, will it die?
    Like chasing fishyfish, Senorita.

  7. Nikki Giovanni has a line that says something like ‘we, poets, believe our words are golden'(Sorry, I do not recall the exact line). What I like about her point is that it does make sense – why would we strive so hard to write and get publish if we would not think so? In this context the poem is an expression and one that the self is quite satisfied with…
    An expression of what? an expression of a subjective something, an experience (’cause for the rest we have post-its on the refrigerator :))
    Now, even though we think our worlds are golden, the intention beyond each poem is to communicate this something to other people.(’cause if we just believe the self is so precious it deserves to be published, I think it becomes a medical question.)
    Thus, I was reading somewhere in the bloggoland that shall be not hermetic to the point where no one understands it. But shall we hold the illusion that there is no language difference between the poem and the “honey, we’re out of butter” note?
    When reading the post it, does honey even dare to think at something else but that he has to buy butter?

    When reading a poem is not that obvious, is it?
    So Paul you’re right that the poem dwells somewhere between the writer’s intention and the reader’s interpretation…
    “(’cause if we just believe the self is so precious it deserves to be published, I think it becomes a medical question.)” Ha! I have tried to say that so many times, Annamari and never been able to say it so well. One day we shall have to discuss how to put an end to ‘confessional poetry’.

  8. I agree with Jim, the poem, poetry is both a form of self expression and a form of communication, and more. Thanks for sharing Paul and opening up this discussion. It made me think about my own writing process.
    Cool, thankyou Cocoyea. I agree that it is both but I think a poet at some point has to make a decision about their emphasis, what they are trying to achieve and that decision will turn around this question. I am turning into a prompt site, haha. You rock!

  9. Poems are spells.
    Yes they are! Fantastic to meet someone who thinks so too. There is actual magic in language, spells, prayers, magic tricks,

  10. i’ve seen this HBO program ‘brave new voices’, teenagers doing slam poetry performances, a series, exciting to hear and see a multitude of young people with so much to say and the ability to say it in their own way, the style is something that is part of their experience. what i noticed is the naturally inspired voice of the individual while the communication is on a shared common ground that reaches beyond the individual and holds a relevant message without a division between self-expression/communication which can present a befuddling dilemma and generate an over-conscious detached perspective, which is also a communication, while it may have an adverse effect on those writers/artists who own a builtin awareness of dualities that emerges in originality. to work with a cloud over the process, a ‘checking’ ‘interruption’ (is it communicating in the right way?) or perhaps pointing to formulating an acceptable way to communicate plays into politic and can overwhelm the art, and might effect the vital breath of the process by narrowing the vision. like using an oxygen tube instead of fresh air. (and it is heavy on the cerebral to the detriment of the poetic, but thats just imo) ideally it would be both the unique voice/vision of the writer and the communication of the idea. intertwined or part of the same vein. i don’t think there are just the two ways, unrestrained experimentation for its own sake and communication. those two ways of phrasing it leave out a lot of color and detail in the spaces between. but it is said so very well and opens a window to vital discussion, thank you.
    Thankyou, Tipota, most maginificent genius of them all. You are absolutely correct and also about my words being a mere trigger.

  11. “Thank, Agnes. The problem with the kind of relativism you suggest, that everything is different for everyone, is that it makes it very hard to construct any kind of general discussion about things. Although, we can conclude that if everyone is hearing a different thing, the idea that the point of poetry is to acheive some kind of ‘authentic voice’ is a bit silly. I see this line of thinking is going to lead to every writers voice is an artificial construct and the end of confessional poetry which I dislike as much as you dislike the ampersand.”

    Ego is a bitch. Without it, there is no need for words. Or poetry. Or discussion. Or blogs. Or any thing. Ego, blessing or curse? “Authentic voice” What does that mean exactly? Why does it matter? I’m not even sure I know what “confessional poetry” is supposed to be. Stuff with an intrusive I, I guess. My ego enjoys discussion, but it’s not often a good listener. Ego just cares about surviving. My contrary lives for a good debate. But letting go and stepping back and looking beneath ego, I don’t know that discussion is vital to Truth. Without ego’s superficial differences, there’s no need for discussion. Nothing to talk about. Underneath the lies, half-truths and blither-blather of ego and daily life, we’re all the same something or nothing. In the end, everybody’s Agnes. Resistance is futile. You shall be assimilated. ::wiggles eyebrows::

    Writing poetry is like masturbation. Ya do it ’cause it feels good. You share it to give Peeping Tom a reason to live. But if you sell it…
    If I sell it, I won’t have to work in another job and can spend a lot more time getting better at it. Everyone’s a winner. In a sense, because every writers voice is an artificial construct, (I do not write as I speak), there is nothing ‘me’ in the poems, the dissolution of ego is the key to creating the magic. Since the poem is not the words, but the event in the reader’s mind, the poem is more about the reader than the writer, ergo egoless, twirling his outrageous moustachios,

  12. Ohhh I love this post. I’ve often tried to think about the ‘life of a poem’, and what causes it to connect with one reader and not another. It also interests me that some people can’t stand poetry at all (poor souls), and I wonder why that is? Does the reader need to have some common grounding in the theme of a poem? Should they have a good ear for rhythm to appreciate it? Do they simply need more patience?… so many questions…

    I love your thoughts of poems ‘creating waves of change’ … so eloquently phrased. This really answers more of my questions than I could possibly ever try to raise.
    Cool, I’m glad you enjoyed it, Tracey. It’s great to see you back.

  13. “In a sense, because every writers voice is an artificial construct, (I do not write as I speak), there is nothing ‘me’ in the poems, the dissolution of ego is the key to creating the magic. Since the poem is not the words, but the event in the reader’s mind, the poem is more about the reader than the writer, ergo egoless, twirling his outrageous moustachios,”

    Yeah. All those meaningless symbols pulled out of thin air and glued together into meaningless words you don’t understand, to be read by meaningless people, stuck somewhere in meaningless time…

    So, which part of the not-you is allergic to apostrophes? ::evil grin::

    Where does a poem exist? Poetry lives in the space between the words. Everything else is rhetoric. Or poetics. Or some other old word created by highfalutin eggheads. Writing itself is an act of ego. A poem’s voice can belong to anyone. (Gotta avoid the sopranos. They’ll break your ears. And Flarf! Whoa.) Actually, I don’t “talk” much at all…outside my head. I’m quite shy, yanno. ::grin::

    Hey. Look at all those pretty symbols. I wonder what they mean…
    You seem quite adamant that writing is an act of ego and in a way, a reductionist kind of way, your position is unassailable. On the other hand I could suggest that writing is an act of exploration rather than assertion, exploration of the world and of the language and it is most successful when there is the least ego in it. But if I was to do that we would be going in circles. The poetry does in fact exist in the space between things, between the words, between the writer and the reader, you would be surprised at how many of the most loquacious writers are shy retiring types in real life. I rarely utter more than monosyllabic grunting. ::scratching himself and thinking about climbing trees::

  14. “You seem quite adamant that writing is an act of ego and in a way, a reductionist kind of way, your position is unassailable. On the other hand I could suggest that writing is an act of exploration rather than assertion, exploration of the world and of the language and it is most successful when there is the least ego in it. But if I was to do that we would be going in circles. The poetry does in fact exist in the space between things, between the words, between the writer and the reader, you would be surprised at how many of the most loquacious writers are shy retiring types in real life. I rarely utter more than monosyllabic grunting. ::scratching himself and thinking about climbing trees::”

    “You seem quite adamant…” I do? To whom? ::wink:: Who/what bids you explore? What are you looking for? I’ll come with. Gotta tell ya, though, there is no exploration without ego. No need, no desire outside ego. But I love circles. All that space in their middles…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ego_(spirituality)

    Aren’t you glad you don’t live in my head? ::grin::
    Oh, this one got held for moderation cos of the link, Agnes and I missed it. Perhaps you are right, without any ego perhaps we would just sit and stare into space. Although there might be another motivation, acting in the interests of others, perhaps. But I give up, you are too smart for me.

  15. Interesting posts and great comments.

    What I first thought of on reading this is “what is your motivation for writing”

    I had a comment come back once on a set of poems I had sent out – I think these are more for personal use than publication.

    Which is true, there are some poems I HAD to write to get something out of my system (self-expression), but they were not always something that was published or publishable (the more communicative side).
    That’s true, Jessie. It does cut to one’s motivation for writing in the first place. Fortunately, now that the irrational stigma associated with self-publishing is disappearing, letters like that from editors will become a thing of the past.

  16. oh so thought provoking… love the comments…
    This one was fun, Ms Pie.

  17. I think ‘poetry’ (I’m writing it that way because I think my definition of it is fairly broad) can be both communication & self expression. And that even things of a really experimental ilk can be acts of communication. I guess the difference is that they’re so much more open to interpretation – maybe they only work by interpretation. I want to say I’m not convinced something needs to be penetrable for it to act as a communication, but I’m not sure how that’d work if I try to articulate it.

    Sort of a means in which you wouldn’t want to communicate the entire time (that’d be annoying,) but interesting.

    (I guess I don’t necessarily mean experimentation purely for experimentation’s sake.)
    Your comment may be the perfect proof of your point, perhaps? Hello,


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