Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What to say, what to say

This Sunday, I am supposed to read a poem and talk about my work to the Washington Metro Philharmonic Association.  I practiced the poem last night and will practice at least a few more times, mostly because I tend to trip over my own alliteration.  In the meantime, I am processing what I will talk about in the ten minutes allotted to me (which is plenty of time, by the way).

My work is largely metaphorical and imaginative.  In the case of my Battlefield and historic poems, I take on personas to gain a deeper understanding of the people and history of the era.  It helps that I am in love with some of the philosophers and poets who had something to say on the Civil War.  But what about the personal side of my poems?

In one talk, I found I was contradicting myself, telling the audience my poetry was purely persona when in fact, I can't honestly say that.  I read a poem about my hiking in Manassas Battlefield, then looked up and said, "My poetry isn't literal, except when it is."  I think the truth is, my poetry is mixed with metaphor and persona guided by experiences and perceptions.  There is always a larger context because really, I think confessional poetry tends to be self serving and limited.  If a poet doesn't connect his/her work with the larger world, I wonder what the long-lasting point is.  Of course, many of these confessional poets who are famous will outlive my legacy, but I am sticking to my philosophy because...because.

In particular, I find my Haiku to be closest to the literal.  And yet, they are not autobiographical even though they are inspired by memory.  But because readers like to analyze authors' psyches, I get a lot of, "Did that really happen?  What in your past made you write that?"  The answers are generally, no, that didn't really happen per se and what provoked the expression has more to do with reflections on human nature and behavior than anything else.  The emotions of the Haiku are mine in the sense that I am human and have indeed had experiences that provoked these emotions.  But most human beings have experienced feelings similar to what I'm recording in the Haiku.

Some of my Haiku are more enigmatic.  For example:

Acidic Haiku

Was that battery acid
you poured in my chicken soup?
Excuse me. The phone's ringing.

Katherine Gotthardt

September 28, 2011

This poem just kind of popped out.  It didn't spawn from anything specific, though Agatha Christie was most likely lurking in the back of my head.  Looking back, though, I see the poem has taken on a meaning of its own.  Did someone really pour battery acid in my soup?  Of course not.  So why battery acid and why chicken soup?

On a metaphoric level, we could argue that chicken soup is supposed to be soothing, but the dinner date added something toxic.  What does that say about the relationship?  Then the speaker suddenly says the phone is ringing.  S/he goes to answer the phone which might actually be ringing (in which case, s/he is lucky to have temporarily escaped) or makes an excuse, recognizing the relationship itself is toxic.  The thing here is to look at what is happening or potentially happening in the poem itself and why it is happening, a process not so different from that used to analyze fiction and sometimes even visual art.  The problem is, readers tend to want to discover the deep, dark secrets of authors' minds as opposed to looking for larger meaning.  I assure you that while I have a deep and sometimes dark mind, my poetry isn't an exact reflection (and neither is my fiction).  Those who take a purely literal approach are missing the point.

That said, the action of poetry and prose does stem from the author, so we can legitimately ask ourselves where that action might come from.  The problem is, we can't know the answer and end up making assumptions. Really, if I wanted to write about my life, I would tackle memoir or autobiography, but I am not bent on mucking around for the most part.  That's what my blogs and journals are for.  I am a pretty open person, but when it comes to my private life, I will reveal what I want to when I want to and I thank all very much for neither making assumptions nor probing.  Boundaries are to be respected.  I cannot stop readers from doing what they wish to do, of course, but they do so at their own risk.

I think I've stepped into a good stream here, one with direction. I might actually know what I will talk about Sunday--unless I completely change my mind of course, which is very likely.
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