Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Okay look here's the thing

Poems come from people, right?  (Even when they come from computers, right?)  A poem on the page is one thing, right?  We read it, and the only sound we hear is our own voice reading it either out loud or in our head, right?  And receiving the poem that way is one thing, right?

And hearing the poet read it, or even seeing them read it, or even seeing them live and in person read it—that's another thing, right?  It's a different poem, right?  The poem on the page is one poem, and that same poem coming from out of the actual body of the poet is another poem, right?

Are the two poems, although different, equally "the poem"?  Or!

Is the poem that comes directly out of the actual body of the actual poet more "the poem" than the poem on the page?  Should we defer to the actual poet-body poem?  Is that poem the go-to poem?  Is it?  Isn't it?!  I think I used to think it isn't.  But come on, isn't it?!


  1. the way you are thinking about things, i would venture to say there's more than two poems: there are as many poems as there are listeners; likewise there are as many "poems" as there are readers of the physical work.

    i can't tell whether you're holding what you call the "go-to" poem to higher status than the poem plain on the page, but i think they are nearly the same, except that a reading poet creates an aura around him or herself.

    i personally dislike the aura because it attaches outside perceptions & personality to a poem that is read when the poet didnt create the characteristics on the page. its akin to how plath's life is analyzed as much as her poetry, and sid visous' love life to his music. people ascribe what they know about their personal life to their art.

    probably if readings werent ways for poets to make money, i would refuse to do them. but alas

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Ally. I like what you're saying. I probably should have told about what brought this on, which was this:

    The other night I went to a reading that was supposed to include James Tate, but he couldn't make it, so the sub was Richard Howard. He read some poems in the voice of fifth graders, kind of sentimental I guess, kind of funny in a G-rated way...and it occurred to me that if I had read these in a book, I probably wouldn't like them. But Richard Howard, you know, he's getting up there in years--I think he was a fifth-grader in the 1930s--and he just seemed like such a sweet little old grandfatherly fellow, I couldn't help having a kind of empathy for what he was trying to do in the poems. I couldn't not be affected by his aura, though I could have tried....but I just didn't want to.

    In my post I think I was trying to say something about how poetry is communication from one human to one or more other humans, and that the poet's own voice, the poet's own body, is the primary source of the communication, and that the printed poem is merely a record of the communication. Of course, in this way of thinking, then actual speech would also just be a kind of recording, or medium, but it's just way closer to the original source, I guess.

    Now this would mean, of course, that once a poet dies, the "true poem" or whatever dies too, and we're left with just the record. Like being left with a photo. But I kind of like that idea, actually--that everything we create is just temporary. (Since it is, after all.)

    Anyway, just rambling here. Thanks again for commenting:)

  3. funny, i didn't care for r. howard's poems at all. (confession: not nearly the first time!) i guess mainly because of the 1-per-poem violent animal deaths. jeez louise. i thought i was gonna hurl while the peacock was being beaten, no kidding.

    for me, in contrast to your reaction, it was howard's delivery that did the most damage--whereas the 5th grade speakers were "upset" by the animals' deaths, howard himself seemed to be hoping the stories would come off as cute or something. he was reading the 5th graders as naive--which they were, of course--but with a kind of knowing cynicism, as if to say they'd grow out of that kind of sentimentality, wink wink. (yeah, here's hoping not.)

    it was really lovely out there in the park that evening tho. i wish dara wier had read longer.

    anyway, hi.

  4. um, not trying to argue with you...but i got so busy talking about howard i forgot to say:

    yeah, i think a poem can change in the presence of the poet, and even in different performances by the same poet.

    i almost always hear something differently in a performance than i "heard" it on the page. and i think having a poet's actual voice (or performance style) in mind when reading poems later makes a difference to how i experience them.

  5. Hi Shanna, yeah, I totally see what you're saying--like I said, if I read those poems, even now after hearing them, I still probably wouldn't like them. But he seemed like such a nice guy, I'm just a sucker for that I guess. (Plus he's from such an earlier generation... It's like the comedy of the 30s--movies from that time aren't really funny in the way that I like, but that was just the style back then...) I don't know...I'm just frustrated that I'm apparently incapable of being objective and critical, which leads me to feel like kind of a hack.

  6. oops--I just now saw your second comment--long story short, I agree:)

  7. i know this is a little late, but i had the email response thingy turned off on blogger... i see your from NY... where do you find out about readings?

    -ally (@ idiotmusic.wordpress.com)

  8. I find out about most of them on Julia Cohen's blog, onthemessiersideofneat.blogspot.com, as well as various other blogs in that big list on the righthand side. I just kind of fish around.