Haibun for a nagging doubt

I read a poem today by a proper poet with fellowships and residencies to his credit, and it made no sense to me. I am educated in literature and history. I read the classics in several modern languages. Yet the words made no sense, recherchés, self-consciously obscure, and their addition made no message that my highly educated, highly literate mind could untangle.

I always thought poetry should appeal to the emotions, pluck at chords, say something recognisable to the kind of person who would choose to read a poem. Am I wrong, then? Is this what poetry should be, an élitist ego-trip for those with the biggest dictionary? Or is it a failing on my part, my literacy not the right kind, or not finely honed enough to understand the subtleties? Perhaps we are not all endowed with the chords that a poet may pluck to make music.

clouds roll grey

August wind blows

the summer away

even I feel it leave

in my numb human bones

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

36 thoughts on “Haibun for a nagging doubt”

  1. Hello Jane!

    No, you’re totally fine trust me, I have been there. Poetry has its own world, I’ve crossed bunch of poetries that I have been in the same satitation as you at times I would be frustrated for weeks and I’m very fluent when it comes to Dari & Farsi literature and the language. For example the classical Farsi poetry developed as a literary language by adapting the meter and rhyme scheme that was picked up from the Arab poets. Farsi & Dari comprises oral compositions and written textbooks in the Persian language and it is one of the world’s oldest literatures. Sometimes when I read Farsi poems I think to myself is the poet relaying a message to God or to his lover? In general, I think the poetry world and its literature is very confusing yet beautiful at the same time. Thank you for sharing your experience with us! 😎

    1. I think you put your finger on one of the same points Merril was making, that it’s possible to not understand everything in a poem yet still find beauty in the way the words are strung together. Most classical poetry aims for beauty, and if the point is to deliver a message, then the poet makes sure the message is comprehensible. The poems that make me doubt my intelligence are those that aren’t going for beauty, if they have a message it’s in code, and that seem to be trying very hard just to be clever.

      1. I see! I think you would need a poetologist for those kind of poetries. Just kidding! 😝

  2. I’m right there with you. And it’s different from reading a poem that is beautiful, even if you don’t understand all of what it’s about. I remember a few months ago someone saying that poems should be accessible to people on different levels. But there are those types of poems that you’re talking about that seem to appeal only to a few elite–maybe no one knows what they’re about really but they’re just pretending because the person has the credentials! 🙂

    1. Yes, it’s a lot harder to question someone who’s a fellow of this college, poet in residence at another, has books of poetry published. And I agree, you can not understand every word in a poem yet get some message from it, or just enjoy the beauty of the words. In a poem where the words aren’t creating an image, where they just make a string of rather pretentious words that don’t make actual meaningful sentences, I don’t see what anyone can get out of it.

    1. Maybe it is just too clever for me to understand, and in terms of intellect I’m not at the top, but I’m a long way from the bottom, so who exactly is this character writing for?

  3. I agree with you– I also happen to love words especially words that have been forgotten. I’m guilty of “making up words” as well- pushing two words together or changing a verb to an adjective or vice versa. I think poets should have fun with this. It’s their right to mess with language. Having said this I think like art poetry ranges from abstract to photorealism. Some like the puzzle of locked poetry, but for me heart-speaking is understandable and accessible and desperately needed among the more avant guarde works.

    1. I love making up words too, or rather placing two words together to make an image. To me, that is simply painting with words. They are usually very clear, obvious words because the intention is for the image to be understood. When a poet uses words that nobody ever uses, they come completely blank and blind. If they are then puts in a phrase that has no obvious meaning, the result is equally blank. But it sounds clever no doubt. And yes, I agree that emotions are sadly lacking in a lot of modern work.

  4. Seems its like in politics, or in the community. In poetry there are now the “two wings” too. Trying to present so called “high class”, and “for all the others” Poetry Slam. 😉 Michael Dont worry its an illness only. The antibiotics on the rail. 🙂

      1. Oh yes its sad to think so, but i it can be true. Here they are making a culture change too. Years ago we got serenades with classic music, now since some years we only get “traditional” brass music – “Blasmusik”. ;-(

      2. This is a good question, Jane. Here they will put down the culture, to hide the EU-funds for themselves. For inviting music groups you have to pay. The action given by local groups – renamed every year 😉 – save a lot of money.

  5. You pinpointed it exactly when you said clever–a lot of novels with glowing reviews that just seem awful to me are that way too. Clever is egotistical and self-promoting, but it seems to be what is taught and enshrined these days. All those MFAs with their degrees and workshops and awards and publications in the “best” journals–it’s all self-referential, an inside joke.
    I’m glad to be on the outside where people actually live real lives. (K)

    1. I’m glad to be on the outside with real people, who aren’t part of the groupie crowd trying to gain admittance to the inner sanctum of ‘clever’ artists by telling them how wonderful they are.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s