poetry, meaning and ‘arse dribble’

today, i’d like to serve you up – arse dribble! that’s what stephen fry calls experimental poetry.

don’t worry, there’s more on the menu.

jim murdoch over at the truth about lies has a good post on poetry and meaning, where he lays out two styles of experimental poetry – ‘decoder ring’ and ‘the emperor’s new clothes’. i’ve picked a few words off his post, and will give you examples of my poetry – i have one from each category he discusses.

jim: ‘decoder ring’ poems are fine up to a point. my wife writes them all the time, usually about me and i never get them. of course, when she tells me what the poem is about it’s obvious but no one else would have a clue to the poem’s ‘true’ meaning. that does not mean the poem is necessarily meaningless to them. they will impose their own meaning on it.

my poem:

ha’aha’a: humility.
beyond this and that,
above servitude,
below arrogance
not higher not lower –
just that:
here i am.
naked.
let the winds blow …
ha’aha’a.

here’s the decoder ring (i’ve written a whole book of decoder rings here, by the way)

these are words of aspiration. i aspire for them to be words of description, i aspire for this to be the truth: that i am indeed humble, equal, in no need for clothes that hide who i am, meeting the winds of what-is as they come.

i don’t know if i’ll ever get there – but i can reach for it. as i am reaching, i leave a trace, i leave crumbs like hansel and gretel, and together, these crumbs are a poem.

or: the poem is part of the path that leads to

ha’aha’a: humility

footnote: ha’aha’a is hawaiian for humility. when the spirit of aloha is explained, ha’aha’a has a place: A – akahi (tenderness); L – lokahi (unity, harmony, oneness); O – olu’olu (kindness, being pleasant and agreeable); H – ha’aha’a (humility); A – ahonui (patience and perseverance)

back to jim.

now, an ’emperor’s new clothes’ poem is another thing entirely. it is where you are presented with an arrangement of words on a page and are told, “this is a poem – make of it what you will,” whereupon you are left to your own devices. now, you can look stupid and say, “i don’t get this,” or you can hold you hands up and go, “this is simply wonderful!” to cover your embarrassment. i think too many of us are unwilling to play the role of the wee boy who shouts out, “hey, the emperor’s got no clothes on,” for fear of ridicule. we assume that the poem has a solution.

here’s one i dug up from sometime in 2005, and i have to tell you i don’t really know whether there even is an emperor

it’s all still better when
the crap stops
or the crab stops
running sideways
rouge
baton rouge
roller coaster baton
crab rouge stop
when all the crabs
stop over in baton
rouge when it’s over
it’ll better be over

and jim:

which brings me to the term ‘experimental poetry’ a one-size-fits-all expression which can be used to excuse the author no matter what, if i might quote stephen fry here, “arse dribble” is served up to us in the name of poetry. i have no problem with poets experimenting. i encourage it. i do it myself. i think it is essential. in the best scientific tradition that is how we learn; we have a crack at it and see what happens.

so here’s an example of arse dribble. i had completely forgotten about it. i rather like it:

i have a candle on my left of hand.
i have a candle on my left of amber-on-black that
beshadows itself from light –
candle not reach it for angle will not allow.

candlefire tip so light and bright and white on also-white
waxcandle. transluces many things. though
a-many questions beg: reaches it me, my inner
brainlight?

my inner brainlight as it lies these latter days
under a clog cloud of furry, heavy fog
drogged by itselves and other shrumpy co-oms and panions.

no-ony-bod will ever stand under the tree of this beminion.
no tressy croog will sot beneath or over shullden hexmons.

berwong sut yoot.

i have a candle on my hand that’s left of me.
that screen that sits bestaring me in yellow-black
can see not candle while it angles wrong.

bright fire stares at me, my eyes, my cheeks, my brows and lips
bright candle cuddle fire.
in midnight. while that brain of mine unsure is whether
it long have wait until it drinketh light.

(okay, i have to decode one thing for those of you who haven’t used computers before the internet: first monitor screens came only in green-on-black; the next great evolution was amber-on-black!)

jim: as far as i can tell, there are two kinds of poets: those who want to tell stories and sing songs, and those who want to work out the chemical equation for language and pass on their experiments as poetry.

here’s a poem that’s a song

take the braces off your legs
come sister, take the braces off your legs
tear the rags off your skin, sister, tear the rags off your skin
take them off and dance

take the shackles off your hands
come sister, take the shackles off your hands
tear the black glasses off your eyes, sister, tear the black glasses off your eyes
take them off and sing

take the irons off your feet
come sister, take the irons off your feet
tear the noose off from your neck, sister, tear the noose off from your neck
take them off and dance and sing

dance, sister, dance, be the wind
sing, sister, sing, be the moon and sun
let those chains and shackles be the instruments
that celebrate your freedom

dance, sister, dance, sing, dance

let me stand by and see you
dance, sister, dance, sing, dance
let me see you celebrate your freedom

and one final word from jim:

why can’t you just say what you mean?” is another good question. sometimes i do, sometimes however it’s easier to write about one thing when you’re really talking about something else. that’s nothing unique to poetry. i had a girlfriend once who used to let me know she was menstruating by using the colourful euphemism: “the painter’s arrived.” we use picturesque language all the time. we very rarely call a spade a spade.

here i call a spade a spade. or a tomcat a tomcat. it’s all pretty straightforward. or is it?

wet camelia leaves
glitter under the street lamps.
a tomcat runs home.

2 thoughts on “poetry, meaning and ‘arse dribble’

  1. Jim Murdoch

    I do have to say, this is a delightful response to my post. Most people assume when I write these things that I know what I’m talking about and that’s really not the case. I’ve lived quite a sheltered poetic life, I pretty much just got on with it and left worrying about it to others. Now online I’m discovering that a lot of people have very different approaches to poetry and it’s fun stirring them up a bit to see what we all can learn from the exercise.

    Jim Murdoch’s last blog post..What does mean mean?

  2. Catatonic Kid

    I love Stephen Fry. I recently watched Absolute Power for the first time and fell in love with him all over again.

    ‘Arse dribble’ is perfect. I think my ‘best’ piece was about a big black boot and a cockroach. I’d recently overdosed on Kafka and the results were not pretty.

    It’s funny the way we avoid meaning sometimes. Maybe it’s something like a linguistic form of teenage rebellion? But then again sometimes the only way to get where you’re going is not to make ‘sense’ for a while – Alice through Wonderland and all that jazz.

    Catatonic Kid’s last blog post..At the Brink

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