Monday 20 June 2016

Poetry: A Deal Struck Between Poetry and Applause

 A poem by Chengde Chen 

A Deal Struck Between Poetry and Applause

(But not just about poetry)

I do not understand the poem the poet has recited.
But it is applauded, so it must be me being stupid.
So I consult others, on my left and right.
Surprisingly, they shake their heads, as well.
I ask them why they had applauded.
They say that it was just being polite.

So I ask the poet, quietly, to explain its meaning.
He tells me, quietly too, what it is about.
The meaning is rather simple, nothing much.
I say, ‘If so, shouldn’t it be made easier to follow?’
He says, ‘I know, mate, but you know,
if it was easy, would it be poetry?’

Gosh, the resonant deal between poetry and applause
is, in fact, a tacit collaboration between two frauds.
First, the poet tricks the audience through obscurity –
making a simple thing a mystery that sounds deep.
Then, the audience fools the poet with pretence –
as if having reached the depth that doesn’t exist.

As obscure poetry generates dishonest applause,
dishonest applause makes poetry more obscure.
I wish I could ask everyone who had applauded
to explain his or her every clap on the spot.
If there had been no such pretence of orgasm,
how long could the act of love-making last?

However, not to make myself an enemy of the world,
I’d better beat this poetic business psychologically first.
That is to regard this hypocritical applause
as a tribute to me for my not applauding –
as an apology for my loneliness,
as salutation to my honesty.

Chengde Chen is the author of Five Themes of Today: philosophical poems. Readers can find out more about Chengde and his poems here


Keith said...

To write simply about simple things is simple. To write simply about hard things is hard. Indeed true, as your poem points out, for both poetry and philosophy.

But that’s not the be-all of the matter, of course: there are many other arenas—not just poetry, not just philosophy—in which language acutely matters and can have deliberate effect, good or bad—where, as you say, there can be “a tacit collaboration between two frauds.” Political electioneering is another such arena; it’s also where, to borrow your phraseology, “a deal is struck between [rhetoric] and applause”—where “the [politician] tricks the audience through obscurity.”

Given the titanic grudge match between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, willingly greased by the media reps-cum-interrogators-cum-collaborators, the candidates and their surrogates appear to be channeling Vice President Agnew’s 1970 poignant turn of phrase “nattering nabobs of negativism”—the three n’s. If you’re going to dig deep for ad hominem attacks, at least make ‘em count. Agnew got the gibe in against all things liberal, but especially the news media. He went on to giddily refer to the media as the “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history”—the four h’s.

But—no surprise—these turns of phrase actually weren't the original creation of Agnew. In this case, President Nixon’s speechwriter, William Safire, served as Agnew’s proxy inner muse. In case you’re (understandably) scratching your head, a nabob was something like a provincial governor under the Mogul empire of India, and subsequently more generally used to refer to someone of conspicuous wealth or importance.

Anyone who remembers Safire knows he remained a brilliant wielder of the English language, like a rapier—on occasion resorting, with cunning purpose, to the obscure. In such battles of ideas—including how to convince the electorate you’re clever enough to lead the constituency at stake—words can soar or belly-flop.

I wonder if the assorted political camps of today, dueling for memorability among the general electorate—all the while on occasion “generat[ing] dishonest applause”—yearn for a Safire on their teams. Political electioneering, I would argue, being another venue in which, as you say, you might “want to ask everyone who had applauded to explain his or her clap on the spot.”

kiraly said...

One dialog between Poetry and Philosophy. Congrats!

docmartincohen said...

I like the poet's 'explanation'. It's a bit like a joke, surely the one that needs explaining has missed the target. Thinking of philosophy books, people do also produce these grand texts, and can - if tracked down in person - explain them in a few lines - as though doing so in the book would spoil the effect! So the profundity of the poet/philosopher requires these swirling veils. Perhaps that is part of the act and we should not complain?

docmartincohen said...

Thanks Istvan. (My Mum's in Belgrade this weekend!)

ustennisfan said...

You are pretty deep and honest. I love honesty, it requires courage. Well think about it, we all have pretended at some point to some degree, either for politeness or for flattering or for neediness, so more or less everyone is a hypocrite by circumstance. Glad you pointed out!!

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