Comment from: Farren [Visitor]
Farren

Excellent piece, Diana.

I’ve noticed that many people, especially young people, don’t enjoy classical music until they hear it in the score of a movie. The brass band arrangement of Concierto de Aranjuez in Brassed Off switched on a few people I know to Rodrigo, for instance.

Similarly, I know people who yawn at most poetry who thought the recitation of Auden’s Funeral Blues in Four Weddings and a Funeral was breathtakingly poignant.

As you say, poetry is for the most part made to be recited aloud. And, I think, the right context often makes its attractive qualities more apparent.

An occasional party trick of mine, especially when I’m tipsy, is injecting a few lines of a poem by Dryden or Wordsworth or Dylan Thomas to decorate a point, and the reaction is almost always positive. While most people will start yawning before you’ve even begun if they know they’re going to be subjected to a half-hour recitation of this or that poem, they rarely fail to appreciate the expressive power of a few well-composed lines, in context.

09/30/12 @ 17:48
Comment from: diana [Member]

Someday, Farren, you and I will have a beer together, and at that time, I would love to hear you recite poetry, if such is your desire. &#59;)

And thanks!

d

09/30/12 @ 17:53
Comment from: Hinermad [Visitor]
Hinermad

Diana,

Thank you. I think I get it now. Poetry is emotional engineering. (grin)

I faintly remember reading “Sonnet 43″ in middle school and thinking what a waste of words it was. I knew it was a love poem, so I thought once you got past the first “I love thee” it was just padding. (Not that I’ve ever padded a school paper.) I didn’t pay much attention to it until it was featured in a Peanuts special. Hearing it read, haltingly, by a little girl while her beagle pantomimed the sentiments expressed convinced me there was more to it than that. (Having experienced some of those sentiments first-hand in the intervening years helped too.)

I still get lost trying to understand what people are trying to say (not the meaning, but just the words as written) in some poems, like the Duke’s speech in this part of “My Last Duchess.” But after you reformatted it I can see that he’s calling up a memory of the Duchess, some little moment that you wouldn’t see in the painting except for a bit of color in her cheek. Again, experience helps me understand the reason for the poem (well, this piece anyway), if not the poem itself.

Very rarely does a poet explain what he means, and even when he does, generations of critics will suggest that that was only what he was aware that he meant. And those critics have a point.

This is the part I keep tripping over even today. Applying our own meaning to art feels like we’re putting words in the artist’s mouth - words that may be completely different from what he intended, words that he may reject completely if he knew we attributed them to him. I realize this is how it works in the art world, but it just feels, well, dishonest. Maybe I’m taking that idea too far though; it’s not the artist whose mouth we’re placing words into, but the art. But I suppose that’s what art is for, isn’t it?

Dave

09/30/12 @ 17:55
Comment from: lorraine [Visitor]
lorraine

Wow! Stupendous. Now let’s see how it works on our lad, in love as he is, unable to concentrate because his facebook sweetie keeps chirping him. LIfe in the ether of love. We shall see. Thank you. Very well put.

09/30/12 @ 18:13
Comment from: diana [Member]

Hey, Dave!

Emotional engineering. YES! :D

It takes a few readings to catch what’s going on in “My Last Duchess,” I admit. That’s part of the joy to me. Good poetry should make you work for the meat, like good crab legs. That’s one of those poems where you need some background to grasp the true creepiness of what’s going on. It is placed in Ferrara (that centuries-old art center in Italy where I spent two months last summer, as it turns out), and the duke–the man who is speaking (this type of poem is called a “dramatic monologue,” and part of the fun is figuring out from the discourse what’s going on) is one of the city’s flithy rich elite and a renowned art collector. He also had a wife who died mysteriously, and you learn at the end of the poem that his audience for this monologue is the envoy of the man whose daughter he plans to marry next. Once you work that out (and most of it can be deduced from reading the poem closely), you get truly creeped out.

I also struggled with the notion that artists sometimes say far more than they think they’re saying. I remember essentially telling a teacher who suggested such a thing to me that I thought it was bullshit (this was back in my undergrad days, but I retained that idea for a long time). The artist said what he said, and it’s stupid to read into it. As I’ve aged, though, I’ve come to see it a different way.

Not that I’m more mature than you. All evidence is to the contrary, and I accept that gracefully. What I mean is, I’ve “aged” in my reading and understanding of poetry over the years, and my view has shifted. First, I accept that, while I can try to understand a poem as the author meant it to be understood, we can never be sure. I believe it’s worthwhile to do the research into the author’s life and politics and to historically contextualize a piece, to try to get at what he probably meant to convey. I like this because I like trying to understand how other people think, really, so it may just be a curiosity thing on my part.

If trying to work out what the writer intended is the extent of our study and appreciation, I submit that we have failed to make the personal connection with the work that is essential for its very status as a work of art. In order for something to qualify as art to me, it must reach me personally. It has to mean something to me, do something for me, appeal to me in some meaningful way if it is to stay alive. If art ceases to do this, it ceases to be art, as far as I’m concerned.

Keep in mind that art is an independent, living thing. We don’t even know who created much of our art; we can only hope to learn something about them by studying the art itself, if we want to know something about them. But art is meant to be interpreted, just like language. It is a language, if you want to look at it that way. In language, what a person means isn’t necessarily what he says, and what his audience hears isn’t necessarily what his audience understands. Language–and art–always goes through interpretive lenses. It’s silly, then, to insist that the audience not interpret it through their lenses.

Think of Shakespeare plays, if you will. He wrote them, then they underwent constant revisions by various players and producers while they were being performed originally. They were works in progress, then they were essentially discarded (he never meant for his plays to be published in written form). We’re lucky enough to have them (or some of them? who knows?), and we continue to produce them. Each production is its own interpretation, just as each original performance was a unique interpretation. Shakespeare had to have understood this, working as he did as an actor. Scenes would be cut out one night because they ran out of daylight, and other scenes might be cut out the next. New lines would be added for clarification or to shape a character, and old parts might be struck to accommodate them. It was a living work of art in its purest sense, and Shakespearean plans are the same today. We have productions of them set in the modern world, even. This is how art works.

I submit that all art works like this. The artist had a vision, yes. But the art lives or dies on its own, and it’s only as good as people’s appreciation of and identification with it. Most of us will understand art in different ways, too, because we are so unique, a collection of our experiences. This is not something to be crushed, but something to be embraced. I WANT to know how you understand poem X based on your life experiences, because it broadens my understanding of humanity and my appreciation of art.

On the notion that an artist didn’t mean X but perhaps he meant it without realizing it: I’ve come to accept this possibility from people’s reactions to my writings over time. So many times, people have seen me and my opinions in ways that I did not but which were nonetheless true. I’ve become convinced that we say more than we think we do and more than we know of ourselves when we write.

d

09/30/12 @ 18:44
Comment from: Hinermad [Visitor]
Hinermad

Diana,

When you said “My Last Duchess” was being addressed to an envoy of the father of the Duke’s intended, the first thing I thought was, “this could take a sinister turn.” (Something along the lines of “my next late wife.")

It has to mean something to me, do something for me, appeal to me in some meaningful way if it is to stay alive. If art ceases to do this, it ceases to be art, as far as I’m concerned.

This is my attitude too, but I think I may be more prone to dismiss something that really deserves study because the meaning’s not obvious to me. But then there are some things that just seem to scream, “the artist doesn’t give a **** about you!” Fine, there are other fish in the sea.

But I suppose that’s a valid reaction too. I guess that kind of art serves its purpose.

Dave

P.S. I’m glad you’re in my time zone for a change. D.

09/30/12 @ 19:20
Comment from: diana [Member]

“My next late wife.” Hahahahahaha. Yes…that’s exactly the idea. Well done!

I think we’re all rather lazy when it comes to working out what stuff means if it isn’t immediately clear, but I bet if you think about it, you will remember songs, say, where you dig the lyrics but still can’t really explain what they mean, and so your brain fiddles with them for entertainment. A good poem is like a rubic’s cube, which is unlike a really bad simile.

I’ll quit now. Also? It’s great to be home. Thanks! :)

d

09/30/12 @ 19:36
Comment from: Christine [Visitor]
Christine

There was an awesome guy I met at a school conference (University of Victoria) whose thesis was that rap is the modern poetry, and poetry is meant to be shared aloud. Check out his work- google Babasword and Chaucer.

10/03/12 @ 17:10


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