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View Full Version : Responsibility and Ambiguity



square root
August 5th, 2008, 05:03 AM
During my daily hour of lurking, I ran across a slightly-heated argument between two individuals concerning the poem and the critique of that poem. To avoid too much talking, the critic's main points were:

1. They shouldn't have to spell check the poem for the poet.

2. They shouldn't have to do research to understand the poem, both on historical facts and word meanings. Definitions/meanings should be in the poem, etc.

This made me wonder where the the responsibility of a writer's content is overshadowed by a reader's ignorance. There is a battle of perspective. Where do you draw the line?

I understand the idea of a spell check. Granted, things happen, but it is (I think; if not it should be) a rule of thumb to check your work before posting it for review. On the other hand, there's the possibility of relying too much on an Internet spell checker and immediately jumping down someone's throat about a word just because Firefox or IE or whatever says that it's wrong. I suppose that's a case-by-case basis, depending on the attitude of the person commenting on the mistake and the amount of mistakes in the work, and/or the words being mistaken, blah blah blah. This one seems a little straight forward.

Research took a little bit longer to think about. On one hand, I can see how having to look up every other word would be annoying. I cannot see how this is necessarily at the fault of the author, with the exception of something that is obviously the product of Thesaurus fishing (which would hopefully be noticed and commented on sooner rather than later). On the other hand, I don't think that it is necessarily the author's responsibility to "dumb themselves down" to make sure that everyone understands. If any writer spent their time writing to cater to the needs of every youngster that runs across their path, levels of creativity would have limits. Which seems to defeat the purpose of having creativity.

My biggest problem, I think, was how the critic was referring to themselves as the reader. As a reader, I could see how all of her points could have been justified to some extent. However, I don't think that this was an appropriate perspective for a critic to take. If you're going to be a critic, you need to be a critic. Part of that is going those extra few steps and investigating words you don't know and researching aspects you don't know in order to present the author with genuine insight into the "meat" of their work. The surface stuff is important, but it's easy, and even an author would be able to catch the majority of it given the opportunity. Getting to the heart of things is more difficult during a self-critique, in my opinion. There seems to be a better track record if there's someone else shining a light on it. People who want to cop out and say, "Oh, well I shouldn't have to," seem really half-asked. If you're going to take a poem on line by line, actually commit.

And now, even after thinking and ranting and trying to grill the brains of everyone I've been able to get my hands on, I still don't know. Where is the line?

Cran
August 14th, 2008, 02:50 PM
1. They shouldn't have to spell check the poem for the poet.

2. They shouldn't have to do research to understand the poem, both on historical facts and word meanings. Definitions/meanings should be in the poem, etc.

1. Absolutely ... but be aware that, especially in poetry,
there are occasions when words are deliberately mis-spelled for effect.

2. Rubbish.

SacredCircle
August 15th, 2008, 06:57 AM
I don't think anyone should complain about "having" to do anything when it comes to critiques. If someone does not want to spell check or research words, they certainly don't have to. I think each person should give as much as they can/want during each critique. That only goes on this site though. If you are committing to a friend, family member, or fellow student then I think you need to do everything you can.

square root
August 23rd, 2008, 09:27 AM
1. Absolutely ... but be aware that, especially in poetry,
there are occasions when words are deliberately mis-spelled for effect.

2. Rubbish.
1. Of course. I figured someone would at the very least ask before they jumped on someone.

2. That's what I thought.


I don't think anyone should complain about "having" to do anything when it comes to critiques. If someone does not want to spell check or research words, they certainly don't have to. I think each person should give as much as they can/want during each critique. That only goes on this site though. If you are committing to a friend, family member, or fellow student then I think you need to do everything you can.
Right. I think what struck me was that it wasn't what I was used to seeing. Generally what I run across is the poet telling the critic what they "have" to do and not the other way around. What was interesting is that there wasn't any sort of instigation where a critic might defend themselves by stating those sorts of "critic's rights." Right off the bat it was all about how they shouldn't have to do those things, according to their rules. I suppose that if each critic gives what they want with each critique that it should be a given that if they don't want to then they a) don't and b) don't mention it, because why would it be important if it's not something they're interested in?

As for commitment, I came to find that the critique was a part of a contest. Each 'round' you submitted a poem for a prompt or something and then had to critique a peer's work. If you're being judged, and it is a "peer's work" (fellow student?) wouldn't it be to your benefit to dig deeper and show the judges that you can play both sides of the field? These kinds of details are pretty much moot at this point, I'm just puzzled by the process and when these things are legitimate.

Linton Robinson
August 23rd, 2008, 05:32 PM
No rubbish about it. Poetry is not didacticism.

Of course, much poetry is written for readership with special knowledge and vocabulary: students of classics or poetic dogma, for instance.
In which case, the readership wouldn't have to go study in order to receive the poem.

But the idea of writing a poem using obscurities that require boning up on to understand is pretty arrogant and show-offish.

It's a stage many go through, actually. Sitting there with a thesaurus. But like many such stages and poses, it fails the main test: providing reading pleasure.

Edgewise
August 25th, 2008, 02:35 AM
^

What if ambiguity provides reading pleasure to some readers?

square root
August 25th, 2008, 06:26 AM
No rubbish about it. Poetry is not didacticism.

Of course, much poetry is written for readership with special knowledge and vocabulary: students of classics or poetic dogma, for instance.
In which case, the readership wouldn't have to go study in order to receive the poem.

But the idea of writing a poem using obscurities that require boning up on to understand is pretty arrogant and show-offish.

It's a stage many go through, actually. Sitting there with a thesaurus. But like many such stages and poses, it fails the main test: providing reading pleasure.
Of course.

Maybe I'm wording myself wrong. In a situation where extended education would be necessary, I could understand an issue. What about a reference to a common folk tale that a critic may have heard of but wasn't familiar with, or a body part's function? I do agree that there is an element of poetry that is about getting a "good read," but it is my opinion that if you're going to approach it as a critic during an in-depth review, take the extra steps or don't mention it.

Cran
August 25th, 2008, 05:36 PM
No rubbish about it.


It's rubbish, pure and simple -
there's an Australian poem, famous around the world,
and it's full of stuff that many wouldn't know just by reading it -
in fact, there are still arguments going on about what some of it means ...

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
under the shade of a coolibah tree
and he sang as he watched and waited while his billy boiled
"Who'll come a'waltzing Matilda with me?" ...(AB "Banjo" Patterson)

that doesn't stop people from enjoying it enough to make it one of the best known poems around ...


then, of course, there's always Jabberwocky ...

ash somers
August 26th, 2008, 12:16 AM
lol

square root
August 27th, 2008, 04:17 AM
^

What if ambiguity provides reading pleasure to some readers?
To readers it'd be a different story. Their issue would not be because they're bitching about "not having" to do something, but because they didn't enjoy it. In which case they could say something about making it less and why, or they could decide early on that they don't like it and find something they do. They could also be okay with not knowing and enjoy it that way...there's a lot of times when I wonder if a supposed ambiguous nature is actually ignorance, but having been on both sides of the fence I don't care. Sometimes it's more fun to not know, but either way I don't see many people bitching.

Linton Robinson
September 29th, 2008, 05:45 PM
Actually the quote from "Waltzing Matilda" makes the opposite point the poster intended.

Do you have to go look those words up to understand it? No, you don't. It's obvious from context. It's clear that a coolibah is a tree. Who cares what it looks like?

It's obvious what he's boiling, what a "tucker bag" is (the important thing is, he can stick this animal in it)

It would be possible to have handled this in a way in which people wouldn't understand it. But then it would be worldwide popular, would it?

Think about it.

Olly Buckle
October 1st, 2008, 12:32 AM
T.S.Eliot is usually reckoned to be a pretty good poet and The Wasteland is reckoned one of his better works. The section on it in the "Reader's guide" explaining the references is considerably longer than the poem.

Cran
October 2nd, 2008, 03:04 PM
Actually the quote from "Waltzing Matilda" makes the opposite point the poster intended.

Do you have to go look those words up to understand it? No, you don't. It's obvious from context. It's clear that a coolibah is a tree. Who cares what it looks like?

It's obvious what he's boiling, what a "tucker bag" is (the important thing is, he can stick this animal in it)

It would be possible to have handled this in a way in which people wouldn't understand it. But then it would be worldwide popular, would it?

Think about it.

LOL ... he's boiling a billy ... that's not an animal!

it's a tin bucket or pot of water for making bush tea ...
but, of course that's obvious from context ... :razz:

the animal he puts into his tucker bag is a jumbuck ...

but, most importantly, and as it's obvious from context,
perhaps lin can do what generations of experts have not -
and explain what is "waltzing matilda", and how one does it?



meanwhile, it might help to be clear about the distinctions between
ambiguity -
esoterica -
pretentious twaddle -

The Backward OX
October 14th, 2008, 10:50 AM
explain what is "waltzing matilda", and how one does it?

I dunno, I always thought waltzing matilda meant humping your bluey.

What's to understand?

The Backward OX
October 14th, 2008, 10:57 AM
1: couldn't care less. if its poorly spelled and it ----- me then I stop reading, if not, i read on.

2: Firstly a poem needs to be good, that implies things like images, cadence, flow and form. These things should work without the needs for research.

And if they do work then the research will bring even further rewards.

case in point is a poem I just posted

A trip to Phillip Island

that references several other poems but first it must be a poem that reads on its own, then, maybe, some mad bugger might go looking for what the ---- I am on about....
Although why anyone would want to bother researching anything to do with Phillip Island is totally beyond me.

estyzesty
December 12th, 2009, 01:08 AM
1. Never really thought spelling was a huge deal. Of course it stinks as a reader/critic to have to read a poem with loads of spelling mistakes in it, but it's not really a primary concern since it's easy fixed.

2. This one really depends on the individual poem and how accessible the writer wants the poem to be, what kind of audience is the writer targeting,
... also depends on how well the words are used. In some cases, it may be obvious that the diction is unnatural and pretentious, and takes away from the flow of the poem, but in other cases it may be that the reader does need to do work and look up what some things mean.

Richard.E.Craig
January 22nd, 2011, 03:01 PM
2. They shouldn't have to do research to understand the poem, both on historical facts and word meanings. Definitions/meanings should be in the poem, etc. I totally disagree with the reviewer who,s lack of insight and knowledge is taken out on the poet.I feel his ego must have been bigger than his literary understanding.Some might feel it harsh, but a poetry critic with a limited understanding of language should not be a critic at all !

Slugfly
January 26th, 2011, 06:13 AM
During my daily hour of lurking, I ran across a slightly-heated argument between two individuals concerning the poem and the critique of that poem. To avoid too much talking, the critic's main points were:

1. They shouldn't have to spell check the poem for the poet.

2. They shouldn't have to do research to understand the poem, both on historical facts and word meanings. Definitions/meanings should be in the poem, etc.

This made me wonder where the the responsibility of a writer's content is overshadowed by a reader's ignorance. There is a battle of perspective. Where do you draw the line?
Where is the line?

I don't think there is a line. The first point is absolutely true. Each letter on the page (especially for something as typically short and dense as poetry) should be placed exactly there by the poet, or the poet is neglecting the work, and a critique should assume that if a word is spelled unconventionally it was intentional. But, the line. At the darkest end, if you recite a poem to me in Japanese I'll have nothing to go on but rhythm and random sounds. We need to share a language in order for one to enjoy the thoughts of the other. So, even when we're both speaking English, we might not both be speaking the same language. Any area of interest carries with it its own lexicon, sometimes filled with pretty bizarre terms and expressions. Take this dramatic monologue of mine for example:

Yet, it moves.
So it may, so why not you?
When you first came to sit at my table,
to welcome me and put our spheres in harmony,
we ate, joked, then dropped our lines deep.
We found accord.

You see things I cannot.
Knowing vision is my business,
so I supported you and spoke well of you.
I had faith, you see, in your passion for finding the truth,
also my business.

Were new daggers sharpened
when I kept the Inquisitors hungry?
I kept them in the dark, and I told you
exactly what they wanted to see; you needed only
to not give it to them!

And still! You persist!
Daggers in every shadow, thirsting for my blood,
and you incite! You turn on me, cast me as the Simpleton,
as though I have not incurred enough hatred already
to honour you!

You force my hand.
Your body shall be burned,
and from creation you are banned.
Look if you must but forever from your home.
I'm sorry my friend.
***

I don't put this up for critique (wrong forum, not my thread) but rather to ask the question: could you enjoy this not knowing who the speaker or listener are, or the event surrounding the speech? This isn't a question of whether you can figure out who the speaker, listener and event are, but whether the poem even says anything if you don't know.

Granted (x-ref Keat's Ode on a Grecian Urn) one can mention all sorts of things that remain unknown to the reader, but if the point and meaning is lost because of abstract terms, jargon or niche-historical references, then what's the point of reading it?

saintenitouche
January 1st, 2012, 02:46 AM
Seriously? First of all, yeah people make mistakes. If you are submitting to a lit mag or a publishing company you should definitely check and re check and RE RE check you spelling and grammar lol, but I find that hilarious that a 'reader' or even a 'critic' is blaming the poet for the readers inability to comprehend their work. That is just astounding to me. It would be one thing if the poem was written in a way that was incoherent, but if it contains references that the reader cannot understand than too bad! Either look it up or move on! You don't have to write a review. I mean, Look at how many references are in classic literature. Most people can't understand a lot of them without foot notes or spark notes or the occasional google. I think it's great that the poet it branching out and including intellectual material in their work, and I would consider myself graced by the opportunity to learn more! It's just fuel for the fellow writer in the future.

theoldman
March 11th, 2019, 10:15 PM
I had some thoughts, at least one, I thought valid but as I read soon realized, this is all over my head.

TL Murphy
March 12th, 2019, 02:04 AM
How ironic to finally see someone weigh in on a poetry discussion after weeks of nada , only to read that it's over his head and he has nothing to say. Why, then, did he respond? But now that the subject is raised I see that it was originally posted 11 years ago and has had over 4,000 views but only 20 comments in all that time. It's a good question, though asked in a rambling way. Maybe that makes it difficult to respond to but worth considering none-the-less. I'll skip the spell check part. Surely we can get past that out. But where does the responsibility lie when the poet offers what the reader considers special knowledge? The short answer is: does it serve the poem? As a poet, I do not feel it's my job to make the poem easy to understand. Nor is my job to make the poem difficult to understand. How is the poet to know what the reader's vocabulary is? Or motivation to broaden vocabulary? The poet's job is to write the best poem he or she can. If I fill the poem with obscure references to special knowledge just because I think that will cause the reader to bow down in awe, then I am only serving my ego and not serving the poem. But if the word works poetically, meaning it enhances the whole poem and challenges the status quo, or demands transformation then it is entirely appropriate. There is no hard answer. It all depends on the poem's intent.

ArrowInTheBowOfTheLord
April 11th, 2019, 02:24 AM
I'm reminded of an argument that happened a while back over a poem I'd written that referenced the Kalevala. Some readers were frustrated because they didn't fully understand it, others didn't fully understand it but still liked it, and one person got the references and appreciated it more because of it.

I think it's really, really hard to find the line between needless obscurity and references/words which enhance a poem. One of my favorite bands, A Hill to Die Upon, are always teetering on this line in their lyrics. Sometimes they write lyrics that are an incoherent mess of references to, like, three different Greek myths, four different Biblical stories, and some WWI poem. It's just too much, especially when doing the extra research doesn't help make the meaning clear. But they also, more often than not, write some genius lyrical poetry like this (https://ahilltodieupon.bandcamp.com/track/great-is-artemis-of-the-ephesians). These songs wouldn't work without their references to mythology and theology.

The answer, in my opinion, is not to try to predict what your reader is going to know about, but to ensure that the poem still works artistically without the extra knowledge. To again reference A Hill to Die Upon, I don't have to know that this (http://www.songlyrics.com/a-hill-to-die-upon/nekyia-lyrics/) is referencing Yeats or whatever to appreciate it. I understand it enough for it to interest and trouble me. There is a such thing as a poem that is pleasingly perplexing (I think of Kubla Kahn), but it can be hard to pull off.

Darkkin
April 11th, 2019, 03:14 AM
Being an exceedingly backward writer (literal translator, metaphors are a total mystery to me...I don't understand them, I don't use them...), I write nonsense in classic forms, almost all rhymed. And like a living fractal, themes, core rhymes, and characters intersect. But for all the ridiculousness, there is a solid foundation of origin stories and explanations of the nonsensical phenomena that lend an internal structure to the chaos.

The names, creatures, and places are pulled from the most mundane things. Idioms like black sheep, whipping boys, scape goats, the speed of light, and slow Tuesdays. I ask odd questions about simple things like what effect removing blue from the colour spectrum would do. Small things that can become systemic. Tides that stop turning and so forth. I draw on folklore, mythology, cliches, turn of phrase, music, book titles, or whatever happens to stick in my head. As a writer, it is my job to make sure the thing I create has form and function. If it sparks an idea or an allegoric parallel in a reader, it has done its job. The content is viable and functioning.

Does it annoy some readers that everything is not in linear black and white, or speaking metaphors? Occasionally it does, but that is one of the side effects of nonsense. If a reader goes into a piece looking at it from the profound, serious standpoint it can be confounding because it does not conform to a reader's expectations. On the flipside, for readers who are seeking total escape, being able to delve into pure, balanced nonsense can be a heady experience. Some people just like the imagery, others find deeper meaning in the exploits of my exiles, leftovers, and outcasts.

If it sparks imagination, critical thoughts, or discussions ambiguity has served its purpose. Writers are responsible for their own arguments and making sure that their work can support itself. What the readers find and determine, is their own responsibility.

Just some thoughts.

- D.

TL Murphy
April 11th, 2019, 04:35 AM
It's certainly worth reading a good poem more than once. Like watching a good film several times. Each time, you get deeper into the work, you see more of what the artist(s) is/are doing and how the pieces fit together in unexpected ways. A good poem can be studied. If people just want to be entertained, there's always the comics. But if you want to be transported, then the work has to rise above convention and common thought. There has to be some mystery in it.

Darkkin
April 11th, 2019, 12:05 PM
Mystery is requisite, unnoticed marvels among the seemingly mundane. Part of the reason I make the characters I do. They are a dime a dozen, made of left overs, or are acknowledged scavengers, but they have some other flawed traits that make them just different enough to be individuals. Storytelling 101 hook the reader. Like Alice's White Rabbit, it has to be odd enough to tempt the reader, engaging their curiosity and emotions.