Friday, July 29, 2005

party out of bounds

If you read a poem, perhaps it might be that you say:

Oh, I can't comment on this, I don't know anything about the author, I'd need to see it in context, I haven't read as widely as I should in that scene...

These remarks imply that you need "relevant context" in order to think anything about a poem, in order to dare to say anything, or even, in order to read it at all perhaps?

Forget this way of thinking. There absolutely is NO relevant context of the kind you suppose. (and if there was, you couldn't be acquainted with it.) There is no pass-mark, no point at which you've "got it" sufficiently well to start gassing away about it without fear of social embarrassment. What do you think the poem is - an in-joke?

If you meet someone on a train, do you say to them, I can't work you out, I can't really speak to you because I haven't spent any time with your friends? No - quite the contrary, now you've met the person yourself, even if it's only for ten minutes, you consider you know him quite as well as any of his stupid old friends and relations.

In sober fact, you don't know him very well, and you never will, but knowing someone is not static, it's a relationship in which you know different things on different days. Just the same with poems.

(You can't ever say anything sensible about a poem anyway, except by identifying yourself as a klutz.)

But, you object, this is only an analogy! Meeting a person, well, that is not the same thing at all as reading a poem!

This is quite true, but then it was you who started it. You personalized the whole thing when you started talking about the author and the scene, and when you gave that socially embarrassed little scream and said, "Oh No, please don't ask me to say anything!", what you were really saying was "Oh, this is awful, I don't know anyone's names!"

Perhaps you imagine that a poem is a sort of week-end puzzler that you can figure out once you've been around the block and learnt everyone's names.

I sit out here in the country with a gun across my knees and if a stranger comes across the field I'm ready. Without even knowing his name. What? To .. No, it's between me and him. And that's how you should read poems.

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