I have nothing to say and I'm saying it. – John Cage
I've been fortunate to have another couple of poems accepted for publication in Apple Valley Review. The poems are 'Petrified Poem' and 'Communication Gap'. It's a good choice by the editor since there is a definite connection between the two pieces even though they were written a year apart, August 2004 and July 2005 respectively. They could've been written within a couple of days of each other.
The first poem uses the metaphor of rock which I turn into a pun. In the UK there is a product called 'rock', seaside rock, which usually comes in sticks. The classic variety is mint-flavoured with a pink rim, has a white inside and has writing the full length of the stick, usually the name of the town in which it was purchased unless you buy your rock in Edinburgh where you get this sweet, chalky pastel-coloured stuff in lumps or small sticks and God alone knows what passes for rock in Kirriemuir.
It's about my old whipping boy, truth, and how writers have their work cut out when working with it. Truth is static: A met B and they did C to D who said, "E, F," and "G, wasn't that fun?" The truth is inconvenient, sloppy. The novelist Julian Barnes had this to say about the perverse amalgam of truth and lies that is his fiction:
Fiction is telling the truth by telling lies, as opposed to telling less of the truth by telling facts... When you read the great and beautiful liars of fiction you feel that this is what life is. This is true, even though it is all made up.
People – and by 'people' I mean 'readers' – invariably want to look behind the words on the page: "Wot's goin' on 'ere then?" They're always convinced that's there's more there than meets the eye. The big problem with fiction is that, by its very nature, it is two dimensional; even the most intellectual book in the world has no depth, none whatsoever. Life is multidimensional. I wouldn't even say it's three or four-dimensional. When you do something there's always stuff going on beneath the surface, what's going on in the character's head, their conscious motivations and then there's the subconscious ones. On a page the challenge is to suggest all of this and let the reader fill in the blanks. And that's getting into very dangerous territory. It's all very complicated. Or would that be 'complex'? What is the right word? Maybe I should've used 'difficult' instead.
So what's the hidden message? I know what you said, but what do you mean? Ah, yes, meaning. Maybe I should read the poem backwards. That used to work with LPs.
There's a school of thought, expounded in several of Michelangelo's letters as well as in a famous sonnet, that says that there's a sculpture inside every lump of rock (well, marble in Michelangelo's case) and all the sculptor has to do is remove that which isn't sculpture. This idea, which had already partly expressed by Alberti, attained with Michelangelo a higher philosophical meaning: the sculptor's hand, guided by intellect, could only take out what was already extant inside the block of marble and needed to free the "idea" inside from the superfluous surrounding it.
I've always liked this notion. I'm not sure I agree with it but that's neither here nor there. To my mind a block of text is like a block of marble, just waiting for the reader to find the meaning at the heart of the piece. Let's face it, so many great writers of the past are now remembered by quotes, scraps of what they've written often not lasting a whole sentence.
Here's a quote for you. It's not a bad one and it's a whole sentence.
The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think. - Edwin Schlossberg
I agree totally with that statement. I had no idea who this Schlossberg guy was when I first read the quote. I assumed he was possibly some lesser known Austrian thinker. Actually he's not but this quote was included on a site with others from such intellectual giants as Agatha Christie, George Orwell, H. G. Wells and George Burns. One has to wonder if all that Edwin Schlossberg passes onto posterity will be that quote. It's not a bad quote as quotes go. But I wonder if the context would make any difference. Perhaps his next sentence was:
And no sentence can be better contextualised than with the new Parker PumpActionTM Gel Roller.
Don't look it up. It's not a real pen. Shock horror! I made it up.
The message in 'Petrified Poem' is that there is no secret message, no hidden compartment; it's just a pile of words and if you can make something out of them then good luck to you.
The second poem is on a similar subject. What is a writer when he's not writing? I know a lot of writers fear this question. They feel they have to have a pen strapped to their hand twenty-four hours a day or they're not a 'real writer'. God, I didn't write a single word today, I must be kidding myself and everyone else. My whole life is a lie! I was talking to a young fellow I know who is going through a bad bout of writer's block and we decided he wasn't a writer any more, we'd call him a wroter instead.
This is something I tackled years ago. How do writers cope with things? What is their natural response to … well, anything pretty much? It's to write about it. I have no idea what I was so angry about in March 1985, so angry that I included the date in the title of the poem, but I was obviously having a problem with expressing it:
UNTITLED DOODLE (4.3.85)
Unable to find words angry enough
yet still needing to write,
he resorted to scribbling wildly,
and ended doodling:
boxes within boxes.
'Communication Gap' is on a similar theme, the inability to communicate with another person through words on a page. There is a huge gulf between you and I just now. Yes, you. I'm talking to you. Stop slouching and pay attention. I have a message to convey just now. And all I've got are these measly little words. Pah!
What am I trying to communicate in 'Communication Gap' is my inability to communicate. I have nothing to say … no, I have nothing that words will contain … and yet, I cannot resist the compulsion to express the inexpressible. Or was it inexpressible? You'll have to tell me.
A poem has been described as a window and as a door but it can often be a wall with the poor poet screaming on the other side: "Is there anybody out there?" and the reader with his ear jammed against the wall: "Hello? … Hello?"
In these two poems we have a reader who is looking and a writer who is trying to communicate – a match made in heaven you would think – but the poem stands between them, resolute and even impenetrable but put you ear right up to it and you never know what you might think you hear.