Sunday, June 08, 2008

Ambiguous? Or Wishy-washy?

Reading David Michaelis' good biography of the legendary Charles M. Schulz, and just came across the following anecdote:

One Sunday in October 1963, Sally had hidden behind the living room sofa to confess to Charlie Brown that she had prayed in school. Both side of the school-prayer debate wanted to reprint the strip, each seeing in it an affirmation of their position. Sparky himself later came out and said that he personally was opposed to prayer in the schools. But he did not actually care that both parties could find their message in a single strip -- this happened over and over to Peanuts with any number of public causes.

Now, I know this will irk some of you, but I think there's a great kinship between the four-panel funny and the poem: both are constrained forms, requiring the writer to be impactful in a small space - even when it's part of a larger arc or whole, etc. So I found Schulz' sentiments landing pretty close to home even before I realized how closely they align with my own feeling on people's readings of my poems.

It's not that I'm a terribly shadowy writer, with layers deliberately intertwined for you to approach with Poirot-ish persistence. But I hope I've evolved a bit from the poetry-is-non-fiction, moral-in-the-last-couplet poet I was in grammar school. So when a reader greets me with "What does xxx mean", it feels like a poke in the eye. On the sliding scale:

"What do you mean by...?" -- I hate. See above.
"Where did .. come from?" -- I don't mind, but I do resist answering; it shouldn't be relevant.
"You know what I think when I read ...?" -- I like, because it means I've provoked a non-obvious response.
"Hmm." -- I love. Just live with the poem for a while.

The Michaelis book is pretty good as of the half-way mark, though anyone who has and wants to retain an image of Peanuts as nothing more than a cute strip for children should probably skip it. Complicated man. Can't read the strip the same way knowing that.

Let's have a bit from another 2008 Dodge poet as long as we're here. These are the first line of "First Memory", the first poem in Joe Weil's new collection, What Remains:

I remember the delicious heaviness
of an old yellow cab
the thick green-leather upholstery
cracked and torn
as if a giant moth
had cracked from it

No comments: