In Other Words

As a rule I don’t care much for an artist explaining his or her own work. Part of the power of art is in its mystery, its inherent openness to interpretation. For the creator of a piece of art to elucidate its conception and intention, seems an obvious folly, a deliberate diminishment of the piece’s power. By reducing the whole to its divided parts: brushwork, theme, etc., one can’t but temper the overall effect. If, for example, Matisse were to explain to me precisely how he achieved certain colors and moods, I would not be impressed, apart from the astonishment of having been addressed by a famous dead painter.

But you know what they say about rules. Besides, I promised someone in the poetry group I would explicate one of my poems. The following one I wrote while my wife was away visiting her sister and her sister’s family on the East Coast.

Jennifer Derived

I miss your beautiful face.
A cliche in itself. The line,
not the absent green
iris, the yin to my Roman profile,
the reticent rose
pressed to my verbose
expression. Not the porcelain
complexion proverbial
(beside this earthen
olive brood) that
rises out
of my deep yen
mounted on a crest of foam
carrying you to this place–
called home.

Well, what did you think? Because it doesn’t really matter what I think. I wrote the damn thing. I already did my part. What matters is what you think of it. Not that you have to “figure it out.” That’s not the point of poetry. It’s not mathematics. You can’t simply arrive at c by diligent deduction based on a & b. Abstractions are, necessarily, misunderstood. Or, one might say, differently understood.

Theoretically, anyone other than the poet can weigh in with his or her two cents, without running the risk of devaluing a poem. Only the poet knows what the hell the poem is all about. So why ruin it for everyone else? Once the poet antes-up the game is over, the gig is up. For only the poet can shut the door on interpretation, closing the book–so to speak–on other readings.

Nevertheless, a promise is a promise. And I will keep mine by way of a roundabout “clarification” of my poem. Let’s start with the ending, my reasoning being, if I keep you somewhat off balance, I might keep that door ajar. In other words (in these), I will tell you enough to clue you in, but not enough to straighten you out.

So, the ending. That short, two word last line, “…called home.” Is this simply the name of the place in which we live? If so, why the Dickinson dash. “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant–…” There’s that dash. And while we’re at it, what do you, close reader, think our old friend, Emily, meant, penning this at her desk in Amherst nearly a century and a half ago? By “all” does she mean everyone (tell everyone the truth)? Or ought we assume an understood “of” follows the “all” (tell all of the truth). Fortunately she’s not here to shut that door. “…The Truth must dazzle gradually…” As does she (dazzle) endlessly.

Perhaps I am veering too far off-line, gradually losing my way all together. Again, that ending. Might the speaker (I?) be summoning his beloved (mine?) home? Or, am I ( I’ll dispense with this “speaker” business. In this case the speaker is the poet, me.) merely calling our residence home? Well, the answer is, both. Not that there is great artifice at work here. But it does convey a fairly straightforward example of double meaning. Furthermore, the simplicity of the last and first lines is meant to frame the abstractions within. Those anchors provide a kind of gravity for the flights of fancy in between.

As for those fancy flights, there are a few. And some, though not all, of them are plays on cliches. There are allusions to antiquity, poetry’s ubiquitous nod to its Greco-Roman antecedents. Venus is there, riding her wave into the 21st century. Iris, too. True, she is a lovely flower and the green in my wife’s lovely eyes. But, working overtime like a good little word, she is also a messenger of the gods (calling my wife home?). And let us not forget my own prominent beak in line four, an implicit end rhyme with the following line’s rose. (Now there’s a dangerous word in contemporary poetry–rose. It has been so o’erly poeticized that modern usage practically dictates its ban. But, as you may have noted I am fearless.)

Yes, implicit rhyme. It is similar to mind rhyme (an established variant). Though my variation inverts the usual sequence of mind rhyme. And to think, a friend of mine who read this poem said it doesn’t rhyme. In addition to the implicit rhyme, there are two true, or perfect rhymes. One occurs between the antepenultimate line and that aforementioned last line. The other is formed by lines one and fourteen. Since the mind’s ear cannot hear a rhyme at such a remove, its purpose is–again–to bind the whole. in fact, I consider the fourteenth line to be the last of this poem, which I like to call a Nonnet (a kind of sonnette, if you please). That is to say, it has a sonnet’s worth of lines, and bears other features of that time-honored fixed form, though it differs too greatly otherwise to claim the designation in any proper sense. In this particular poem I have further complicated matters. I have gone and tacked on one more line for good measure. And while it, thusly, adds a sort of tail to the thing, it does not do so as strictly established by Milton and Gerard Manley Hopkins in their tailed sonnets. As my poem stands I shall call it a nailed nonnet, in the hope that that wee wag helps to hammer “home” the tiny twist at the end of this short tale. (Don’t you just love the endless meanings and puns that words afford?)

Slant rhymes abound throughout–my attempt at gradual dazzlement. The prose experts will have you show, not tell. In poetry it’s wise to suggest, not reveal. The mallet is best left on the polo field. As for those who would have you hit them directly over their heads, I will tell you that is precisely where you are.

When they suggest to me that I be straightforward,
I plainly reveal to them that I’m quite bored.

Regarding the title
I will give
just one little
hint: white wave.



3 thoughts on “In Other Words

  1. Deea

    Thank you, Andy. I love the way you write and I’m not ashamed to say that it is often over my head, but I like the challenge. So, I read it again until, a) I get it (or think I do, which is good enough) or b) accept that I don’t get it, while still enjoying what I think I understand. I hadn’t thought about how the artist telling the back story of the art would take something away from it for the “viewer”, but I can see you what you mean. I can also see the artist wanting to keep it a mystery so that the viewer can take from it what resonates with them. Sometimes people want to know the story behind a piece of my art, but it seems that that is just the gravy for their affection for it, adding to their interest, not a diminishing of it. Others are apparently fine to leave with their own interpretation and I like that too. I love both possibilities, so I was happy to see that you were going to share some of the inside details here. Whether a person wants to know the “history” of the art/poem probably has something to do with his/her personality type and whether the artist or recipient of that art likes mystery, likes to know the inner workings of a person or idea. It’s all fascinating and good for the brain. Thank you for contributing new things to think about and for sharing your thoughts!(!!!)

    1. Andy


      Thanks for YOUR thoughts (and for the parenthetical exclamation). I figured this post might be too long and tedious for most people to trudge all the way through once, let alone twice. But then you, Deea, are not most people.

      And, honestly, I agree that in some instances explanation does add to a work of art.

      It’s just nice knowing someone cares. I would settle for that–one reader giving a damn. But, in addition, as always, you offer a refreshing no BS candor that I find very satisfying.



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