Wednesday, September 08, 2004
what are poets for?
I found this article while leafing through old magazines in the office. This is by Gemino Abad, from the Jan-Feb '03 edition of Flip. It was quite a good read for me, it made me realize a lot of stuff. And so I thought others should read it too. Quite long (dragging at parts), so prepare yourself.
A poet's own private clearing always stars with some such question. It is a good way to start the year and perhaps, like a caterpillar, turn a leaf and sleep and wake up a transformed creature.
What are lawyers for? Law. What are poets for? Language. But both law and language are instruments, one for the cause of justice, the other for our sense of reality.
The poem isn't a language, it is the living become word. "Get real," I always remember Franz Arcellana saying at writers' workshops. Words do not have their meanings from themselves, but from lives lived. It isn't 'meaning' that language carries, it carries you. The poem's rhythm is the very sensation of living.
If the poem's language isn't adequate for its subject, which is a moment fully lived, it isn't a poem; the subject eludes it, or we read only among its ruins. On the other hand, if the poem depends too much on language, it isn't a poem either. The poem must always transcend its language, and not be entangled in the language's endless play of meaning. That infinite regress is the curse laid upon the mind's hubris that denies spirit and mystery.
What is fixed in the poem is not meaning, as in interpretation, but rather, a meaningfulness that, for one thrilling moment, is all of life for one human being. All of life, that is, the very sensation of living, of being real to oneself, with all that lives. And that one human being is the poet only, but opens that moment's meaningfulness to all the poem's readers.
Let me elaborate a little. As regards justice, we may be betrayed, and as regards our sense of reality, we may be deceived. As the poet Ricardo M. de Ungria puts it in a poem called Afternoon with Young Writer & a Cup of Coffee: "You must find your way back to the real world. / It is always new, and not always true." The uses of law and the uses of language - both must be subject to reflection and change, or we fall blind to "the shape of a reachable perfection", as another poet, Luisa Igloria, says in a poem called Rings. This is why, with statutes and decrees as with poems and stories, interpretation is critical, a word sprung from crisis, from Greek krinein, which means to "divide and judge."
No matter de Saussure, words have their meanings from lives lived. Our words carry us, give us our exact weight, and define all possibilities. Yes, every word speaks other words, and may transform itself through the history of usage in ever-changing contexts, but once it enters a poem or story - a new organic system, as it were, within the vast system of language whence it came - it elicits from every reader subtle evocations of each one's lived experiences. In fact, what we usually take as the word's connotations and associations of meaning are really those nuances and shades of lived human experience from which they draw their color and verve.
That is how poem or story transcends its language for every reader, because its subject is the living become word. Get real, have a life: that's what every poem or story tells us; its language has only been a means, at times a powerful instrument, to help us achieve a sense of our reality. That is even how we achieve our humanity.
dezphaire strapped in @ 9:46 AM
Sometimes bored. Most of the time oddly alive. Phobic of butterflies. Creatively suppressed. Hungry for coffee and shoes. This is my subconscious talking... at times interrupted by my reality.
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