A Poet Cannot Just
Exist, Be God, Write
Roland Barthes says that the Author is Dead in his essay of the same name. You may be horrified by the notion, but I promise you that it isn’t quite so dire. Firstly I want to suggest that you find and then read the essay because it is something incredible, and well worth a cursory skim. Secondly, the author may not be dead but he is ill, perhaps terminally so.
What do I mean? Roland and others postulate that the author is a construct; that upon publication of a text the author no longer exists, that the text is now in the complete ownership of he who reads it. Of course you are horrified, for you are writers and poets, and what you write is connected by a multitude of finite, delicate strings to your mind and body and soul. I don’t agree entirely with said postulation, however, because as we know, the reading of a text is not only formed by the reader but also intent. Intent upon the part of the author may be obscure and it may be overt but it exists regardless of the time and place of publication.
In poetry this is more particularly so because beyond the universal concept of intent to communicate (to which all darling writers are bound) a poet’s intent is in every letter, space and symbol used. This is true of prose writers, of course, for the use the same keyboard and the same pen, but their intent is spread liberally over thousands of words. The poet is condensed; the poet is forever a spoiler on the edge of spilling the tale. So each word and phrase is laden with intent because it would not exist inside the poem unless the poet intended it so. In this way we get to see how the author exists still, alive as he can be, but he is weak and ill defined under the watchful reader. The reader’s interpretation and response to a poem or novel is of utmost importance because that is all the reader has. Context has no place in the first reading of a poem, the reading of a poem should be an experience of emotion and recognition. Of course, context informs much of the content and form of the poem, and so we are trapped in having to understand part of the poet to understand their poetry.
This is not a terrifying trap, only a time consuming one.
On the creation of a poem I will say this:
We need some context, but we only need it in the way of intent. You give us everything we need in the poem and we will leave feeling full, satisfied with our experience. You suggest there is more or less and we are deliciously (or dismally) left waiting for our desserts. But we certainly do not need to know that it is you speaking, that this poem is about your friend’s break up, or your dyslexia. It is interesting, it is helpful, but t is not necessary and it will invariably alter how we as readers read, interpret and accept what we are reading.
Sometimes we need the alteration, because we are reading something very wrong. If we think a poem is set in Africa which is set in Australia, if we think the speaker is a man who is a woman, in these cases we need guidance. Usually the poem gives us cues, but when it doesn’t we must indeed look at the author, look at the lace of conception and not just the creature before us.
You remember that poetry is fickle but kind to the poet, because it knows you cannot forever be on. Whenever it decides, it takes you over and uses you until there is nothing else, and then leaves. And when it leaves you can breathe again and have time to fill your husk back up. It lets you remember how to be before it takes you away again. Learning to be is hard and the poet is forever learning, over and over for each poem. That is why we are new and fresh and say things in different ways, even if they are the same things. When we begin to sound the same we know we are stagnating and must wait for the muse to clean us out so we can breathe new life.
A writer or poetry cannot simply create, they have to do other things otherwise we get sick of ourselves. I think writers are forever sick of themselves, and that is why what we write is rich with feeling. The pen is catharsis, just holding it both blocks and unblocks the great veins of our soul. And we let it jab out onto the page in sections, because we know time heals even these woulds so we will not miss what we lose. Or if we miss it, it is because when we let it go, it was not right and not fully grown and those fledgling ideas and concepts could never become adults. In these cases we must take the poems back and nurture them. Poetry, writing, is a product of nature and nurture and so in this way (in all ways) reflects our humanity.
We forgive those writers who hold too tight to their pen, for forcing too much or too little of themselves onto the page. Not all have learnt to let the soul move of its own muse, to empty and refill. Nothing is so terrifying as the moments before we begin to breathe again.
Regardless of this, above it all, write.