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The meaning of life

‘What words dear God / Dear God, what words’

Michael Dom -
Dr Michael Dom - "I like to meet poems one by one. Carefully. Because each one is extracted from someone else's meaning. And everyone has a shadow of madness seeping through them"


LAE - It's considered axiomatic that ‘words have meaning’, by that I think it is meant that words are used to express real emotion, and not just that words have definitions.

Words here also infer partial and whole sentences, phrases and dialogue.

But I don't think that's the case at all.

I think meaning has words.

And that meaning needs words to be revealed and fulfilled in our lives, and we struggle to find those words, to express our emotions, to share what we think and feel and dream and hope and fear and like and dislike.

Sometimes we get it right and our words are true to our meaning and we are at one with the world, and at other times not.

I think that's why poetry, and therefore poets, more than other writers or forms of creative thinking and writing, has both an awed and reviled position in society.

It seems to me to that being a poet, more than just being a writer, bears with it a kind of societally recognised responsibility and a duty to respond well to that expectation of awe and avoidance of revulsion.

The ambivalence, love and hate, awe and disgust, of the audience comes with the territory.

Poets are preaching meaning after all so what they're saying better be bloody meaningful or at least feel that way to those reading or listening.

Although The Conversation article is interesting, although there are some parts I am not clear about, the conclusion the author arrives at is agreeable with me: "While poetry is regularly denounced for “not making sense”, our cognition and our language do not arise according to purely rational principles.”

We like to think that humans are rational beings in the sense that we have mostly subdued our basic instincts and passions.

That's probably a mistake. A balanced human being learns to incorporate their passions. We need our passions too. They are not just inside us, they are our make-up.

Rational thought has its purpose but poetry is probably not its strongest area.

On the other hand, passion is often linked to madness. Like the saying "mad with passion", or suggesting that people are so intensely passionate about something that they've descended into madness, e.g., jihadists, neo-Nazis, Black Lives Matter rioters and UPNG male students.

We talk about madness as being at the extreme end of passion.

But I think that madness is the default which we try to avoid every day - at least that's my working definition for sanity.

The vast majority of humanity have been well socialised to avoid madness (although in crowds we can tend towards it).

I think an example may be that we know of crimes of passion and can often relate to or understand their cause despite our morality.

Whereas, crimes without passion, well, that's a sideshow on the pathway of sociopathy.

I don't fully understand why but I think that we do need poetry to stay afloat, to stay sane and fit.

Passion is 'an inarticulate gawp' on the edge of chaos.

Madness is the cold dark of chaos staring back.

We access meaning in whatever form makes sense to us - song, dance, drama, art, spoken or written word, literature, sculpture, carving, architecture, mathematics, and more.

I suspect though that it's Meaning that can drive us insane - an overload of the mental and emotional capacity to cope with 'the sheer catastrophe of existence'.

If we don't find the Meaning particular to ourselves we'll end up in Meaninglessness of all sorts. That's a different pathway to accepting madness via nihilism, simply not caring and worse still seeding the passion for destruction.

I held doubts about my own sanity before even venturing into writing poems and the doubt remains in check today, or at least my tendency to madness is placed in a working harness most of the time.

I think poetry was my exit strategy from the default of madness and my pathway to attend to meaning in my life.

Poetry allows me to take smaller chunks that I can work with from the chaos that surrounds me.

Poetry exists in every language because its roots grow inside us all, going down into hell and up to heaven.

It's a pathway for meaning to be revealed to us and that's also why we are sensitive to poems. Poetry can either attract our attention or repel it.

Poets become a conduit for poems to be birthed because they work to express their meaning in the world in which they exist, hovering there in the Chaos between Heaven and Hell, metaphysically speaking.

Meaning is extracted from the Chaos and even though there too awaits Madness we 'Enter the Dragon'.

It seems logical to me that poetry, along with all the other arts, had its foundation in physical movement and the ability to interact with other creatures.

Morality too is founded on physical interaction. But we don't often think about it that way.

(Strange how we direct the progress of thought in our speech, 'that way', 'like that' and 'this way', as if they are physical locations or items. But they are, aren't they?)

So, I have been strongly influenced by the Harold Hart-Crane poem: "How to behave: / In poetry / Give things back / What they already have”. There is a lot of meaning in this poem for me.

Hart-Crane had homosexual relationships while being married to a woman and apparently threw himself off the back of a steamship when he was 33 years old. His biography doesn't offer a lot of meaning to me personally.

What's true for me is that I find it more useful to consider a poem than poetry, which is a collective crowding idea that tends to mask or shade some unique elements in a poets work, in helpful and unhelpful ways.

I like to meet poems one by one. Carefully. Because each one is extracted from someone else's meaning. And everyone has a shadow of madness seeping through them.

Amanda Gorman is succeeding in popularising a kind of poetry to the masses.

It could be argued that if those masses are about 50% of the world and, say, 80% of the consumer market then she's all set for the high life.

So nice wardrobes and glamorous events are par for the course and gaining a fanatic following, if not a media feeding frenzy, is the way things work for good causes these days.

Maybe there is a new morality being created since people move towards that which they perceive as acceptable to their groupthink.

Miss Gorman is succeeding according to her philosophy that, "I'm a poet, so, often I don't work with images, I work with words and text."

Shakespeare, methinks, felt otherwise. But he was a straight white male of the patriarchy so he's out and we'll have to ban all the phrases, words and any and all text which he contributed to the English language.

Amanda's textual skill is obvious. Her presentation skills are no surprise, being synonymous with her cultural heritage and upbringing.

She checks all the right boxes. And I'm still checking out her poems one by one. I'm not sure what her shade of madness would be; maybe narcissism, which is very common these days.

But that's probably the value judgement of a straight, black, male, from a developing, country with tribalistic cultures and attitudes based on male chauvinist foundations.

I may have painted this response with my own personal kala bilong longlong.

What's the meaning of this shade of madness? I dunno.


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Harry Topham

I think Monty Python's crew came close to nailing it, but the reader has to read between the lines to see the subliminal message on offer.

Lindsay F Bond

Prose shortcircuits journey,
Jostling savours in poems,
Meant melts mainly mostly
Meanness's twixt of time,
Reason's sole soul support.

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