Section 7 - Notes on YES and NO
7.0 Does New Zealand poetry’s moon still shine today? Here is an anecdote. It is of something queer. Why do good people say to me, “I read of your poetry yesterday”, and then hasten to say of this magazine article, “I didn’t understand a thing”? Why this comment about not understanding, and why hastened? It is the enforcing of an horizon, an inability to postpone recognition in poetry, that makes for a certain breathlessness in the reader. Given the regular occurrence of this response it is not this person or that person talking, but a population.
7.1 There are some reasons. It may be a reaction to a feared need for special knowledge, (that is a disproportionate fear). Or that poetry has a certain capacity to cause embarrassment and so too does discussion of it. There may be a lag between the cultural context of the poem and that of the audience. Is it poetry’s unrequitedness, its gleam of skin in a world of dressed texts?
7.2 “The experience is of a failure of communication”. There are two responses to this statement. First – the statement is true and poetry cannot survive this failure (if the failure persists past 30 years). Second – this experience does not reveal a failure but marks poetry’s distinctive gate, to its distinctive erotics of knowledge.
7.3 “ I didn’t understand a thing “: why else might this failure, this anxiety of aesthetic deportment, occur? It will occur if prevailing mediation has not organised the thought or has not presented a text to the reader as already known. In the present context, if there is little in a text that reveals New Zealand as a theatre of self-realisation, recognition of that text in New Zealand will be fragile. (And the rub can also be that if there is a revealing of New Zealand as a theatre of self-realisation in a poem, recognition can be strong but a present lead audience will be averse to it.) The poetry of other things, even though it is immense, can possess no face. It can be as squiggles.
7.4 Wittgenstein, again:
Suppose we were to meet people who all had the same facial features: that would be enough for us not to know where we were with them. (14)
7.5 It is a queer lack in the differentiation of language’s experience. Such a lack is uncommon in analogous walks of life. Elsewhere we cannot help venturing deeper into specialist knowledge, where mediation – ambient knowledge – tells us the direction in which we should travel for the pursuit of pleasure. We say of wine, “I would like a red not a white”. Most would then go on to say, “I would like a big red” or “I would like a red but not a big one, a pinot noir, maybe”. And so on – Australian or Martinborough, this year or that. Or of music: this period, this jazz, some R&B, something minimal, this type or that of spoken word, electric or unplugged, solo or group, this balance in the ratio of noise to music. We can all say so much more, again, of music. We can also say much more of painting. A lot more. It comes naturally. But of poetry? Prevailing mediation still manages expectations down. Pleasure seeking stalls. We tongue-tie. We start. Our eyes rove. We look around us for New Zealand poetry’s moon. We swivel and hunt for psychology’s objects. We grasp for indices of the nation-state or of place viewed under the aspect of aura. Having applied these models, then, and when this habitual aspect is absent or unusually inflected, fear grips and we hasten to say, ”I didn’t understand a thing”. And we do not recognise that in the making of this statement we are actually on a threshold of wonder.
7.6 “I didn’t understand a thing”: it is as apples falling. There is gravity in the country’s poetry.