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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.


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