Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Poetry - Enigma Or Illusion



 "I don't quite understand about understanding poetry. I experience poems with pleasure: whether I understand them or not I'm not quite sure. I don't want to read something I already know or which is going to slide down easily: there has to be some crunch, a certain amount of resilience."
--John Ashbery

The above quote started me thinking about a long-time problem that has bugged me again and again, seemingly without end. The problem is that I become irritated when I read a poem that just seems to have no meaning. If I can't understand it, even though I might feel some slight emotional twinge or two, I still experience a vexatious sense of vague inadequacy; if I cannot understand the wording in a bit of text, whether from prose or poetry, then it seems to me that either the poet or the reader (me) has somehow failed. Because there is a lack of cogent communication. And communication seems (to me) to be the ultimate goal of both the reader and the writer. Or should be.

The quote seems to indicate that certain word combinations (poetry) can somehow communicate something to the reader even if the reader does not technically understand the grammatical definition of individual words and word combinations.

I have a problem believing that.

While seeking a bit of elaboration on the subject, I read a piece from the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute titled Understanding and Appreciating Poetry : Afro-Americans and Their Poetry written by Frances Pierce.


Instead of saying I read the entire piece, I should say that I read from the piece. It contained too many subjective conjectures by the author for me to give it the credence it probably deserves.

At one point the author writes: "The word poetry almost defies definition. Part of the beauty of poetry is its elusiveness."

That makes no sense to me.

From the piece I was spurred to look up a specific  poem:

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
by Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in
   human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans,
   and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I do not understand that poem. But it somehow speaks to me. I think.

Perhaps someone more astute or more well-informed than I will attempt to further enlighten me.

Or maybe not.


Did You Know . . .?

Millie the White House dog  . . .
earned four times more than President Bush in 1991.



On this day in 1956, two years after pushing to have the phrase "under God" inserted into the pledge of allegiance, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law officially declaring "In God We Trust" to be the nation's official motto. The law, P.L. 84-140, also mandated that the phrase be printed on all American paper currency. The first paper money with the phrase "In God We Trust" was not printed until 1957. Since then, religious and secular groups have argued over the appropriateness and constitutionality of a motto that mentions "God," considering the founding fathers dedication to maintaining the separation of church and state.



renown  [re-NOUN]
1. widespread and high repute; fame.
2. wide reputation, especially of a good kind.



(born July 30, 1947)
Arnold Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-born American actor, former professional bodybuilder and politician. Schwarzenegger served two terms as the 38th Governor of California from 2003 until 2011.

(born July 30, 1963)
Lisa Kudrow is an American actress. She gained worldwide recognition for her ten-season run as Phoebe Buffay in the television sitcom Friends.

(born July 30, 1961)
Laurence Fishburne is an American actor. He is best known for his roles as Morpheus in the Matrix science fiction film trilogy, Clean in Apocalypse Now, Cowboy Curtis on the television show Pee-wee's Playhouse, Ike Turner in the Tina Turner biopic What's Love Got to Do With It and as Furious Styles in Boyz n the Hood

(born July 30, 1956)
Delta Burke is an American television, stage and film actress. Burke is best known for her role as Suzanne Sugarbaker in the CBS comedy series Designing Women (1986–1991).


Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
--Abraham Lincoln



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