William Lashner - Official Website

William Lashner Photo © Sigrid Estrada


Want to receive notice of books, events, promotions, and news of William Lashner? Sign up now!

Enter your e-mail address below.

 HarperCollins Privacy Policy

HTML Text Only

William Lashner's PI-Writing Blog

Poetry as Meaning - Why Not?

Monday, February 27, 2012

I came across this quite interesting quotation, part of a book about the intersection of poetry and religion. There's no reason to just have my tepid thoughts on meaning, I'll let someone else speak. This is from a poet named Gregory Orr. See, One Whole Voice Various. (Notice my nice legal cite.)
"I remember having a discussion with a friend thirty years ago about where poetry comes from. He said, “I write poems to discover meaning.” That of course is a pretty standard statement. I said, “I write poems to make meaning.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “I believe existence is meaningless, and we have to create meaning in order to sustain ourselves.” At the time this was true to my experience. Through acts of will and discipline and imagination, I tried to make meaning, but it wasn’t enough to get to the other side of the existential wall I kept encountering. Now from the other side of that wall, I can think back on my life, when such a grim statement as “life is meaningless” was true for me. I can see that I had to create meaning, and love, and secure environments for myself, and that the most exciting form of meaning I could create was poetry."
What I found most interesting here is not that he used poetry to find meaning in a life inherently meaningless, but that it was never enough to get to the other side of the existential wall. From the passage it seems he used God to get there, which I'm sure is a great comfort for him. But my question is why wasn't poetry enough? Or love? Or a nice cheese and a warm baguette? And why do we need to be on the other side of that wall in the first place? Is it so much better there? And really, isn't that question age related also? Is a ten year old kid suffused with meaning to be taken seriously? Do we want existential peace at 24? Would I, as a youth, rather be fat and happy on the far side of the existential wall or shivering on the near side, desperately writing my poetry to keep myself warm? I know where I'd like to be at 70, but I'm not sure a condo in Boca is what Mr. Orr had in mind.

But here's the question we need to keep asking. He characterizes the statement "life is meaningless" as grim. But is it really? How happy and full of bliss are we when we open the New York Times and find the crossword puzzle already filled out.

And in ink, the son of a bitch.

DeLillo on Finishing

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A quickie break from the Meaning stuff.

Really now, is anything less meaningful than someone jabbering on about meaning. So as I'm wondering what the heck I'm doing, I came across this in the New Yorker, in an old article about David Foster Wallace.

"In the wake of “Infinite Jest,” he felt anxiety about his writing. Earlier, Wallace had asked DeLillo whether it was normal. DeLillo reassured him, invoking Henry James’s words: “Doubt is our passion.” He added, “Some writers may have to do 2, 3 books, say in midcareer, before they remember that writing can be fun.”"


Before You, No, I Insist.

Monday, February 20, 2012

God is such a perfect answer to the question of meaning that it is as if the query itself was designed just to reach the right result.  In fact, the entire need-for-meaning thing might have been created just so that God could provide an answer, as marketers today create non-existent demand to sell their products.  The heartbreak of psoriasis, the tragedy of scaly feet.  Of course maybe the question came first and God was just invented to answer it.  Either way, the whole process is incestuous.

One can imagine the egg screwing the chicken, coming loudly, and then leaning back with a cigarette, saying, “That settles that.”


Where Are My Pearls?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Meaning in life is like hot sex with a stranger.  Everyone says they want it.  But then, the morning after you succumb to the temptation, you wake up to the realization that your bank accounts are wiped out and your cufflinks are missing.


A Clever Plan

Friday, February 3, 2012

The default meanings in American life are money and God.  (In France they are food and sex, which is why Paris is a better travel destination than Cleveland.)  But money is only ever an interim meaning.  Those who worship money know that the time will come when they will replace money with God, and feel so very virtuous for doing so.  "My youth of carousing, my youth of wine and song and fame, my youth of high living and low sex, my youth of fantastical adventures and brilliant parties was so misspent.  What a fool I was, when all along I could have been wandering the slums of Calcutta, helping the impoverished."  But it’s a pretty decent trade-off, don’t you think, money until the edge of death and then true piety born of fear?

I’m only disappointed that everyone else thought of it first.