Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying

Text by Hazlan Zakaria
Poem by Jack Gilbert

Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying 

Poetry is a kind of lying,
necessarily. To profit the poet
or beauty. But also in
that truth may be told only so.

Those who, admirably, refuse
to falsify (as those who will not
risk pretensions) are excluded
from saying even so much.

Degas said he didn't paint
what he saw, but what
would enable them to see
the thing he had.

I find this poem by Jack Gilbert to be beautiful in the way that it is crafted, as well as in the message that it is trying to deliver: simple, succinct. Yet, it is quite meaningful in its somewhat abrupt ending. That's something that I gather most who understand what poetry is would, perchance, agree upon, or else at least consider agreeing.

Poets have always been claimed to be the most honest of those who practice their craft in the realm of the arts. Unlike non-fiction writers they are usually unswayed by conflicting agendas.  Nor are they prone to re-create the world as fiction writers tend to.

It is generally quoted that poets tend to write about what they see, experience and hear. Which is why it is also said that those in power fear this threat that poets can and sometimes do wield such power over them.

But the clincher here is that what a poet sees, internally at least, is not the same as what most people perceive. This squares with the last stanza in the above poem. As the line goes, "Degas said he didn't paint/what he saw". Which means he did not paint things as they  appear to the eye. Instead, he painted imagery to "enable them to see/the thing he had." ; this thing that he had being the unique truth that the mind of the artist or poet is able to see but which most of society are blind to.

Pace poets, herein lies the untruths and half-lies in a poet's work. For in order to portray truth as it really is, he needs to dress them in 'pretensions', word plays and literary mechanism. When conjoined with the the poet's message, they are made palatable and comprehensible by the masses.

However, in the end it is all a 'necessarily' so, not only to "profit the poet/ or beauty". Also, in many cases it is the norm "that truth may be told only so." Sometimes it is profit in the very literal sense, as some poets do take on commissioned work as well.

But at times and in beauty's sake, it is also about offering meaning in a palatable cake; instilling human folly and foibles into inanimate objects, for example, as a means to conduct a poem's message. In this way, "Poetry is a kind of lying", so to speak.

While my meager explanation herein might shed some twinkling as to the method and means to this poem, I would wager that a further reading of the poem above would impart more interpretations than my take here could ever do. Which is why I do think that it is a special poem that deserves a mention, as an art form, as well as, a great condensation of what poetry is.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cat, Failing

Text by Leon Wing
Poem by Robin Robertson

Cat, Failing

A figment, a thumbed
maquette of a cat, some
ditched plaything, something
brought in from outside:
his white fur stiff and grey,
coming apart at the seams.
I study the muzzle
of perished rubber, one ear
eaten away, his sour body
lumped like a bean-bag
leaking thinly
into a grim towel. I sit
and watch the light
degrade in his eyes.

He tries and fails
to climb to his chair, shirks
in one corner of the kitchen,
cowed, denatured, ceasing to be
anything like a cat,
and there's a new look
in those eyes
that refuse to meet mine
and it's the shame of being
found out. Just that.
And with that
loss of face
his face, I see,
has turned human.

The poet Robin Robertson has found a cat – if that is the word for it – which he has “brought in from outside” into his kitchen. The first impression – his and ours – is rather wispy. We witness a ghost of an animal, vaguely resembling a cat. It is not shown to us as a fully embodied living thing. It is merely a “figment”, and not even a fully-crafted entity, just a “thumbed/ maquette”, like some abandoned sculpture.

Is it alive, when “his white fur” is “stiff and grey/ coming apart at the seams”? It is like a broken doll, abandoned by a child who has lost interest, and love, in it. His face doesn’t even register into the poet’s consciousness as such; it’s a “perished rubber”, the body “a bean-bag” - hardly living descriptions.

For all that, there is a “light” in the animal’s eyes, but it is fading, as he stumbles about in the poet’s kitchen, afraid, as he has cause to be so. As the poet witnesses his deterioration, he also catches sight of something human in the cat as he hides his eyes from him, from shame for being exposed in such dereliction.

It is not till the end of this poem that the poet is able to see in that “perished rubber” of a face some semblance of something human: “loss of face/ his face, I see,/ has turned human.”  

If the poet hasn't been talking about a cat in this sad condition he could well have been drawing a picture of a homeless old man. Observe lines five onwards in the first stanza: "his white fur stiff and grey", "his sour body/lumped like a bean-bag/leaking thinly/into a grim towel"

Similarly, most of the lines in stanza two, except line five, could also be readily ascribed to a man in deplorable conditions.

Labels: ,