Saturday, August 12, 2006
B and I have been listening to music tonight and having a wonderful extended conversation about how music shapes and fosters the identity of its listeners. A strange thing, music—a song is an aesthetic object, but it also exists in time, must be listened to, or at least rehearsed in the mind to have its effect. One can’t simply take away from a song one’s interpretation and be done with it; one needs to experience it, in the moment, to have any sense of what it is. If one is being a purist, the same is true of poems—they don’t mean anything, they are things. But we have so much trouble with that idea. In schools, poems are taught like puzzles, depriving would-be readers of poems’ true powers, which are to be things, to create experiences out of language, a medium we otherwise think of in terms of what it means. I’ve been having a little discussion with Andrea Baker on her new blog about this very issue in the poems of Kay Ryan. It took me years after high school to overcome the idea of “interpreting” poems. Now that I’m no longer anxious about understand what poems “mean,” I’d hate to go back to that other way of thinking about them. Which, of course, is not to say I want poems to simply be musical. I just never want to worry about paraphrasing them again. At their best, poems bring us back to a purer experience of language, to the place just before it means anything, to where words reach out to the things they refer to, but don’t quite grasp them, because once they grasp them, they’re dead.
Posted by Craig Morgan Teicher at 8/12/2006