Monday, November 08, 2010

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Analysis of the Poetic Self

When discussing poetry, I tell people never to confuse the narrator with the author. I stick to this assertion even when the narrator is indeed the author because I find--at least with my own work--some of what is being said is true, some is not and some is just plain gray.

Now, readers often will wonder how there can be a shade of gray when it comes to the truth about reality. The answer is, there is more than one truth about most things if we look hard enough. In poetry, sometimes those truths are implied by the author. Sometimes they are inferred by the reader. Sometimes they are misinterpreted by the reader or miscommunicated by the writer. And sometimes, the truth about reality is just hiding behind wispy curtains of metaphor.

Once in awhile, I read my own work, and I chuckle because there is a level of reality that takes root in a poem and grows in whatever direction it wishes. And then there is the real reality, the concrete, the getting up in the morning, the brushing of teeth, the eating, the caring for children and pets, the shopping, the house cleaning, the working. These are external functions that most would call real life because these are the things that we as human beings see.

These are the actions that get things done. These are not just thoughts or ideas as expressed in poetry. Poetry is neither seen, nor is it particularly productive. (No poem that I know of has ever washed a floor, though I am sure many poets have.) And yet, a poem is a real, tangible thing.

When I read my own work and ask myself which part of the poem represents the real and which the imagined, which drama, which metaphor, which symbol, which artistic interpretation, I find the lines become blurry in many cases, not because I am incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction, but because perception and analysis make what we call "truth" pretty slippery. And because of this, my external self need not match my internal self, that is, the part of my poetic self that loves artistic meandering and doesn't care about accuracy. Poetry, at least to me, need not be autobiography.

And so, while bits and pieces of my work may represent absolute truth, ambiguities abound to the point at which I would recommend the reader not try to sort it all out, especially when I have a difficult enough time sorting it out myself.

My work, for example, might reveal darkness. And yet, while there is certainly darkness in my life and mind, there is also the opposite, which I might or might not explore in a poem.

Or, some might read my work and expect me to act a certain way based on what they think I am saying in a poem. They would probably be disappointed.

And yet, I cannot deny the thoughts are there in my head in some form, or that, even if I invented the ideas, there must be a real source of these inventions. From some part of the mind or soul, the words must be born even if the words do not represent absolute truth. If all we know is what we have lived, then even our imagined worlds are somewhat based in truth. So I begin to wonder, not so much about the words themselves, but about the source. "Why did you write that?" I ask myself.

My overly analytical self responds, "Answer the question."

My pragmatic self answers, "Who cares?"

My poetic self says, "To transfigure life through art and imagination."

I think I most like the answer my poetic self offers.

In that answer, the lines can remain as blurry as they or I wish. It doesn't matter if the words represent a fleeting thought or feeling or neurological firing. It doesn't matter if the words recall a specific time or place or joy or pain. In the answer provided by my poetic self, my mind and words can wander at will, and I have no need to question the exact inspiration or provocation.

My poetic self is free to be what it will be. I like that.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Love and James Joyce, Version III

I revised it again. Obsessive. I know. But the words matter.


*Of Love and James Joyce


I have always been overly romantic—

ridiculous, really, considering my age, as if brooding

and wearing musk from a drugstore could turn me siren,


or at least damsel-in-distress. No, no highwayman

has ever galloped to my father’s cottage, no matter

how much my wild mind has wandered in the woods,


where even the depression of unrequited passion

can transform to an understated Valentine.

No, no subtle touch of a forbidden hand, no accidental brush


of arm against arm, no man who could ever read a mind

or a blush or undo a painful past, no secret, terrifying,

one-time kiss, no Victorian weakness, no fantastic


longing that would never destroy a life, has ever come my way.

I am, regrettably, forever fourteen, obsessing over a male

with eyes like my fantasies—largely unknown. But then, as now,


my imaginings never made it past second base, anything beyond

ruined for me. It was the wanting that mattered, the uniform's

up-to-the-chin white turtleneck, the humiliation if the boy glanced back.


“Why is she always staring at me?” he asked his friend.

I was flabbergasted he couldn’t sense my profundidty,

couldn’t appreciate my pensive nature, that he was bound


in his own prison of adolescent privates, sans understanding

a female kicking through winter as if it were a lifetime.

But then, reality is, after all, a James Joyce-ian snowfall.


*In James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” snow traditionally has been interpreted as a symbol of paralysis.


Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt

Draft 3


Friday, November 05, 2010

Of Love and James Joyce

*Of Love and James Joyce


I have always been overly romantic--ridiculous,

really, considering my age, as if brooding and wearing

musk from a drugstore would turn me into a siren,

or at least a damsel in distress. No, Sir Lancelot


would never gallop to my rescue, no matter how much

my wild mind wandered in the woods, where even

the depression of unrequited passion could transform

to an understated Valentine. No, no subtle touch


of a forbidden hand, no accidental brush of arm

against arm, no man who could ever read a mind

or a blush or undo a painful past, no secret,

one time kiss, no Victorian weakness, no fantastic


longing that would never destroy a life.

Reality is a James Joyce-ian snowfall.


*In James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” snow traditionally has been interpreted as a symbol of paralysis.

Monday, November 01, 2010

All that is Worthy of Praise


I wrote this poem as a call to worship when our church Writers' Group led Sunday service last year. The service theme was "All that is Worthy of Praise."




A Call to Worship: All that is Worthy of Praise


All that is worthy of praise,

direct your voices to we

who hardly

acknowledge the day.


Show us your perfect, pearly feline claw,

your dark dog lashes,

your figure in the fun-house mirror

telling us always to laugh.


Remind us of gardening hands,

the way waves eat a shoreline,

how a pair of pants fresh from the dryer

feels on a winter’s day.


Tell us when we spend more time searching

for the crack in the cup than we do making

the tea, when we revel in our own ruin, feasting

our minds on famished souls, rendering

ourselves only empty.


All that is worthy of praise,

when the rain pools on the pavement,

when lightening sears the sky,

and when thunder knocks at our very hearts,

give us wisdom to listen:

“I am here! Come now. Worship.”


Katherine M. Gotthardt

Nov. 2009