June 24, 2004

tell the truth but tell it slant

Since some people I know in "real" life read this, and I wouldn't want My Brother the Writer worrying about whether I had an unhappy childhood again, I probably should comment on the previous poem. Melissa commented, in part, "Only you can answer this, think this out to its end."

My answer to her was:

Oh, no, I know the answer - it was the poem wanted the question asked, not me really. The answer is, that life really was the default, the easy choice, the one my parents would have liked me to make. And I really would have hated it. I'd have ended up half a person, like a nautilus unable to move into a bigger chamber (which, I think, is what happened to my parents, though they're not necessarily unhappy about it). The other woman I wrote about is real, too, but I think for her that is just the right-sized life.

But the question in the last stanza is true, too. I certainly have chosen to make things harder for myself than they absolutely needed to be -- but for me, I'm much happier erring in that direction than the other way.

As I was thinking about that this morning on the water, though, I started thinking about poetry in general. (Water is soothing, and also, setting my mind to worrying one problem while my body works on rowing seems to work for me.)

Poetry exists to tell a truth, sometimes one that can't be told or would be difficult to tell in prose. Good poetry tells a universal or at least widely applicable truth. I'm not claiming any merit for my own except that of conscientous effort, by which I mean that I do always try to use my words to tell a truth. The thing is, it's not always my truth. Sometimes it's what I think is someone else's truth, or it's only a part of my truth or it's my truth but from a different perspective. For example one of the very first pieces I posted in a blog was "Sarah Whistled":

Sarah whistled when she walked,
Tangled bits of tunes that tailed
Away behind her like a banner
Floating on a trailing wind.

No matter now that she's far gone,
I seem to see her when I hear
Tuneful snips of tangled song
Set dancing on a trailing wind.

Sarah is me, actually; I was imagining the point of view of someone who is fond of me, who might find the habit endearing. They might equally find it annoying, of course; that's the nice thing about not having to tell all the truth. Or to go on to better poets (and ones not so obviously stealing from Leigh Hunt), Robert Browning in Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister or Edward Arlington Robinson in Richard Cory though they were talking about something universal, were not showing it through their own viewpoints. Even Emily Dickinson, the most personal of poets, had obviously not died when she wrote "Because I Could Not Stop for Death".

What I'm taking a lot of high-flown words to say is, don't worry, I'm happy. I asked the question, but I do know the answer -- which doesn't mean it's not worth taking out and re-examining occasionally. If I'd stayed in Northeast Philadelphia I would be rattling the bars of my cage and dreaming of escape.

Posted by dichroic at June 24, 2004 08:10 AM

You are so right ... this is great poetry

Posted by: sergio ortiz at March 14, 2006 09:57 AM
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