FEATURE OF THE MONTH
The Writer and the Reader
—William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.
—T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Poetry anyone? Here's what I think is likely close to the truth about our relationship to poesy.
Most of humanity—including lovers of poetry—reads prose most of the time, and likely prefers to do so. Imagine a poetry-lover who somehow ended up in prison, and one form of punishment was that he'd be given no reading material except poetry—my guess is that he'd probably go mad and scream out his demands for frequent doses of plain prose, however mundane it might be!
My friend, Dilip Chitre, among the dozen most accomplished poets in India, and a prolific bilingual (Marathi & English) poet, even finds himself reading and writing prose most of the time. Poetry is hardly effective when it comes to discourse. The odd few may of course eschew the discursive altogether and take the risk with poetry alone. Some may write poetry but read mostly prose, whereas others may write prose but read poetry most of the time. Instances of someone completely giving up prose for poetry must be rare, but the reverse is common. Then there's poetic prose, with any number of great practitioners, including the likes of Henry Miller, Vladimir Nabokov, or the lesser known John Hawkes, George Konrád (Hungarian) and Antonio Lobo Antunes (Portuguese).
Yet to sound 'prosaic' takes on a pejorative meaning.
Music has often been thought of as the highest form of expression, the condition to which all art aspires. Close on its heels is poetry, combining as it does the passion, drama and emotion in the sheer 'sound' and rhythm of words, the evocative nature of the 'image' in graphic words, and the hint of transcendence that its brevity implies. A good poem uplifts me as prose never can—unless it is by someone like Nabokov. But I wouldn't forsake one for the other.
In Shakespeare's time drama was in verse form, and the audience tuned right in. Imagine today's plays in verse: the audience would dry up in no time.
Anyway, here's a 'prosaic' poem about the writer and the reader, both engaged in their own way with literature, be it creative or discursive, fiction or non-fiction. It looks at the business of writing and how it creates a bond of mutual necessity with the act of reading.