The key point, I think is the meaning of “communicate.” It is something kind of close to the truth/not fact stuff I have been wrestling with and the “all art is communication – poetry and prose are letters” stuff Ray says before he offs himself.
Communication is really broader than “this is what I mean” in many ways. To state the obvious: Real communication is often demonstrative…physical…sexual…and non-verbal. Even if verbal, the connotations color everything that is said, as do context, tone of voice, expression and all…
The fact is, once we throw a word or any sort of communication into the wind, whether at someone specific or not, we no longer control it. Each receiver can find things in it, consciously intended or not, that I think are every bit as valid (and “true”) as what the transmitter THOUGHT he/she intended. That is a key point as well. You might think when you say “It is pretty day” you know what you mean. There are many things in the day that make you say “pretty” instead of “warm” or “clear” – some you may not consciously identify. Even if you were very specific, any adjective and the word “day” are pregnant with meaning.
Try this with “I love you.”
This also speaks to the way we can react emotionally and intellectually to word combinations we do not “understand.” That is the magic of word-art in its various forms. When I read Merwin, I often get caught up in the music, the magic, the sense I get that there is something important there. This is what I call engagement and I have been lecturing on how it is the key to poetry and other art forms.
Once we are engaged with a work, we fill in much that is ourselves. That is what the writer wants…even if he says he doesn’t….that engagement. And once you open your work up to a reader, you lose the right to control its path just as you do an emancipated child.
It actually works both ways. The reader may see things I didn’t know were there, and even things I very much don’t like, but that is because the reader is making the poem or story his or her own. If this comes back to me, it serves up a somewhat different work that I might enjoy and benefit from.
So, when someone doesn’t get “it” but gets something, I am fine. Maybe the reader sees something I didn’t , or something I didn’t think I knew was going on. I put so much into this book, so many layers and levels, that I knew no one would react as I do, but hoped everyone would get something. If someone comes back and talks about the Christ figure and deep Christian imagery, I will scratch my head. But maybe I will learn from it and enjoy it. I will certainly be flattered that someone read deeply and personally. That is a big BINGO. It is the opposite of “That’s nice.” Which I hate.
Hope this makes sense.
Barry Marks is a Birmingham attorney, and the author of two books of poetry. Possible Crocodiles, his first book, was named 2010 Book of the Year by the Alabama State Poetry Society. Sounding, his second book, is an emotional but unsentimental examination of grief, loss and recovery. Sounding was a finalist for the Grand Prize in the 2013 Eric Hoffer Award for Independent Publishers Competition.
His new book, Dividing by Zero, brings us a riveting volume of poems, stories and narratives that weave a complex tale about a man, Raymond Shaw, who commits suicide, and his daughter L. The unique structure, which Marks uses to tell both L. and Raymond's story, is inspired by the Talmud – the Jewish Rabbinic text that contains statements of religious law, case histories and interpretative notes on each page.