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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Miss Communication

I was talking to my daughter the other day about writing. She's a poet, and her work is fun, often child-like, contains beautiful twists of phrase, but is sometimes difficult to understand. Why not make it more accessible, I asked.

She responded with an interesting view on literary works. There are some that envelop you in a new world. The reader is cushioned by that world, passive, surrendering herself to what the author creates. This is what I write. I do it consciously, aware of what I want the reader to think and feel and manipulating words to that end.

But there are other ways of enjoying new worlds. She prefers to dive in and swim around--surrounded by the work, but not enveloped in it. In this way, the reader imposes herself on the work, testing, wondering, probing its meaning. Two readers may end up in two different places and conclusions. Which is not only fine, but encouraged. This way allows the reader the freedom to create their own world out of hers.

Fiction is often (usually?) the former, although there are plenty of books that are prickly and interpretive and difficult to understand (James Joyce). Poetry is often the latter, though again, there are plenty of poets (Ted Kooser, Billy Collins) whose creations take you exactly where the writer wants you to go.

Which do you prefer? Or do you now and again like to sample both? If you're a romance reader you've experienced one kind of writerly intention. Here--one of my favorites of my daughter's poems--is another:

Mrs. G's Domestic Tale
197 Dolliver Street
Apartment 3E
Muscatini, Iowa USA 52761

There lived a man once, who invested
himself in the cutting of prime
numbers. "Glynis!" he would say,
"How I do love those prime numbers!
How finely they do cut."

"In decomposable," would come Mrs.
G's retort, which really meant: "Rogers,
you will be driving me to distraction!"

But our man Rogers, he might just
whistle or such and eventually Mrs. G
would go back to her soft-boiled
eggs and other likewise things safely
without a point. then
what with all apparent, Mr. G
would move those prime numbers,
and up and over they went.

Past the tomato patch.
Past the tar and chip driveway.
Past the town's 613 stop signs.

Until our lady Glynis, when she woke,
well, the day would be broken

sliced to pieces at the farthest edge
where its belly was nice and pliable.


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