Monday, June 1, 2009

Oh, How I Love a Little Poetry After Suppah...

So my friend Mary has given me a fabulous topic to grace the blog with, constructing meaning in poetry. It's so easy for us nerdy poetic types to whip out some words on a page and call it art. But we forget that the rest of the world can sometimes be left standing there wondering, "Whaaa?" I like to think of it like a painting. You go to your favorite museum and wander the halls, then something catches your eye. It's a painting. It's interesting, but you can't quite verbalize why. Something in it grabs you. Who/what is the painting of? What's the point of it? What does it mean? These are questions only you can answer. Of course, if you had the artist standing right next to it, you could ask them what the painting was all about and they may or may not expound upon all the things, feelings, techniques, etc that went into creating that particular work. But most importantly, I think the artist would probably say, "What does it mean to you?" It's the same with poetry.

When we read poems that don't immediately give up the goods on meaning, "We," as one of my favorite teachers used to say, "must press ourselves up against the poem and and gently ask it to let us inside." We have to consider many different things. What can we know about the author from the poem? What opinions does the author give us about certain topics in the poem, and how do you know? And what is the overall feeling of the poem? These are all things you can construct meaning from yourself. We construct meaning in poems, which means we build our own meanings. This also means that a poem can mean one thing to an author and mean something totally different to the reader. So think about these things when you encounter a poem that leaves you with your head cocked to the side in bewilderment.

But as for the immediate question about the "dogma" poem, you do happen to have the artist standing right here, so I can tell you what it's about. :) In May 2005, I was in L.A. with my BFF and my friend Dave, a fellow writer from Ojai. After a long night of good times, Caroline decided to hit the hay in our fabulous suite at the Beverly Hills Plaza hotel. Dave and I hit the pool, even though it was 1 a.m. and the pool was clearly closed. No one was around, so what would it hurt, right? Well, it turns out there was one other person at the pool. We struck up a conversation and it turns out that she was a Call Girl (that's what she called herself). She had a cigarette hanging from her lips and was taking small sips of clear liquid out of a plastic cup. After the What's your name's and Where are you from's were exchanged, she hit me out of the blue with, "So you do believe in God? And do you think He really has a purpose for everything?" Dave sort of laughed, because he knows where I'm from, my personal history, and the issues I struggle with related to God, religion, spirituality, and the Church. I don't really remember how the entire conversation went, I just remember thinking about what an odd picture that was. A Beverly Hills hooker on a search for God has a discussion with a jaded preacher's daughter. So "dogma" is about that experience. Eventually, the man she was with came out of the room and onto the balcony, called her cell phone, and she scurried up to their room. Dave and I were left alone at the pool where he dared me to strip down to the buff and jump in. I did it. And we didn't get caught. :)

So there you have it, the poem.