A few thoughts about writing, poetry, communications

One of the sometimes seemingly strange things that poets like to do is get together and read their work to each other to solicit comments. From an outsider’s perspective, this may seem mostly self-serving, an opportunity to solicit praise. In fact, just the opposite is true.

What happens in poetry critique groups is that the other half of the poetry contract, the reader/listener, has a chance to let the poet know how the reader interprets his words. Poetry critiques that are composed largely of “Oh, that’s so wonderful” are mostly useless. In the best of them I get feedback about interpretation, misinterpretation, confusion, and even a little chiding when I’ve taken too long to get started or rambled on too long.

Poetry is largely composed of highly compressed language, so if it’s not done correctly, the results can often be something that wasn’t intended. This is not always a bad thing. I am sometimes amazed to hear someone reading into my piece things I had never thought of and certainly had no intention of putting in there. But what those interpretations mean is that somehow my work has penetrated the reader’s consciousness and created some new connections. This is a good thing, and it highlights an important perspective about nearly all writing, in my opinion.

There are lots of reasons for writing, and what I’m about to say does not apply to most keeping of journals or diaries. But it does apply to poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, journalism, and even to some degree to things like technical writing or recipe construction.

Writing intended to be shared is essentially a contract. The writer puts it out there. The reader consumes it. Because no two of us have the same life experience and perspectives, because we can’t therefore share a common semantics (this is true even among those who share the same primary language and even more true of those whose native languages differ, a common problem in translation of works), the final product that the reader consumes will be colored by his experience of the world. It may be very different than what the poet intended. But if it creates a connection between the world of the poem and the world of the reader, the work has succeeded in its promary purpose.

One of the problems poets run into is that they know the backstory and so the poem is clear to them in a highly condensed form. But it may muddle, confuse, and disappoint the reader. I think the same thing is true in blogging sometimes.

The comments of a blog are the place where we can get these details sorted out and actually achieve some level of communication. So I am grateful to the readers of my blog who take the time to question things they don’t understand or agree with. I don’t expect to use my blog as a place for proselytizing my position but rather as a place for making my thoughts clear and sharing them.

I like knowing what you’re thinking, both when you agree with me and when you disagree. And I’ve learned from you in both cases.

If blogging has any real purpose, I think it’s mostly about communications. I love the little virtual community I’ve found here. It’s a rare day that goes by that something doesn’t tweak my interest. But don’t worry about challenging ideas you find here, and please don’t be offended when I do the same in your blog space.

There’s too damned little real communications in our very complicated world these days, and I think that’s a recipe for disaster. So I’m going to keep crying out into cyberspace on a regular a basis as I can.

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4 Responses to “A few thoughts about writing, poetry, communications”

  1. judy24 Says:

    Hi – I wanted to respond because what you are writing about is exactly the process that visual artists go through too. I often wonder how much info to give about my work because on one hand I want to let the viewer come to their own conclusions about the work. On the other hand the story of the piece is a very important part of it. Usually I pick and choose how I want to handle each piece. I have had many people comment to me in a show setting that the writing I display with the work makes the art so much more approachable for them and inviting and many of them still get their own connection with the pieces. What I really enjoy is finding out something new about my own work from those who are viewing it.

    Thanks for your post. I definitely connected with it!

  2. mklekacz Says:

    Judy, thanks for the great message. I’m glad to know it had some meaning and context for someone outside my poetry world.

    Every writer I know wrestles with this same issue when doing readings. How much intro is enough? How much is too much and spoils the impact of the piece?

    And I definintely agree that the most satisfying thing is connecting with the “consumer” of your work to find out what little patterns it set off in his brain.

  3. Barbara Says:

    It does compare well to blog comments, doesn’t it? I’ve never been in a poetry group, but in a fiction group the same thing is true. There’s also a point, with my writing, at which I don’t dare seek feedback, because I haven’t yet found the true direction, myself. It’s too fragile then (and so is my ego in regard to it). The story has to develop and mature for a while. Then feedback is amazingly helpful. Sometimes it’s scary, and sometimes humorous to find out how a particular passage is misunderstood. And of course it’s nice when helpful people lead me to those realizations, rather than submitting material to an editor that way. There are some things we just don’t see in our own work, including, to some degree, where it’s good.

  4. mklekacz Says:

    Barbara, you’ve really nailed one of the benefits of a critique group. I’m wrestling with a manuscript preparation right now, and if it weren’t for the wonderful folks in my Tuesdays writers, I think I’d consider it hopeless. But I don’t.

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