Monday, July 14, 2008

There's a poet named Vernonica Forrest-Thomson, or, rather, there was a poet named Veronica Forrest-Thomson, who published a book of literary criticism named Poetic Artifice posthumously, following her suicide at the age of twenty-eight. Bummer. I woke up thinking of this, not her exactly but one of the ideas from this book, a book that I read while living in Brooklyn a book that was at the New York Public library and is considered a rare book because not many were published, thus you can't usually just order one on-line. You have to find it in a University collection (if you're lucky. Anyway...). The idea that as readers we have a tendency for "external naturalization" when we read a story or a poem; a tendency to try to create a comparable meaning outside of the writing that we can compare the two with, for example "this poem is about the writer's relationship with his father" or "this story is about living in Israel as a Palestinian"... something like that. We do it all the time: remove whatever it is from its context and put it into a context that is easier to understand and explain. Think 'soundbite', or your friends in the avant-garde explaining how a particular piece of dissonant music was made.

This isn't a bad thing, our tendency to relate, and in fact it's why we're able to make sense of things: because in our readings or listenings we relate what is being said to ourselves and our own experiences. In reading a poem or listening to a song, we'll go back and forth between paying rapt attention to the thing, and rattling around in our own minds. Like a pop song, think verse chorus verse, and the chorus is when our ears take a break and we sing along, or inhabit the persona of the hip-hopper, or whatever. She writes:
"Our reading must work through the level of meaning into the external world and then, via the non-semantic levels of artifice, back into the poem, enriched by the external contexts of reference in which it found itself momentarily merged. This is what continuity in poetic language means."
Or in other words, every time we go into our heads we bring back something new to the poem or piece that we're interacting with, and with that new information or memory, we go back into the poem's structure, thereby setting up new and fresh comparisons until we are once again sent out into our own heads...back and forth back and forth etc. I write all this because I woke up thinking of what we were going to do for today's 'freewrite', where at the start of every class we spend about ten minutes writing and then sharing what we wrote. My question (or topic) is not who was Veronica Forrest-Thomson, but does everything we write or say or do have a comparable external meaning?