Poetry NZ, New Zealand’s foremost poetry magazine, edited by Alistair Paterson (ONZM), presents the finest in new writing from home and abroad. Each issue offers poems by talented newcomers and developing poets as well as already acclaimed and established writers. Issue 42 features the work of Mark Young of Auckland and Rockhampton (Queensland), a New Zealand expatriate writer well known in both New Zealand and Australia. Three sample poems can be found here: custom-made in the region by Mark Young, still life with horse head by Zarah Butcher, and Hi Ron Padgett! by Craig Cotter.
Do critics really have to ‘explain’ the meaning of a poem or how it works, or should they leave such things to the reader? In his book, Understanding Media (1964), Marshall McLuhan put forward the view that ‘the medium is the message’. Although he seems to have said this to emphasise that the medium affected the tone and ‘meaning’ of a work, currently a great deal of poetry is written to some degree in accord with this dictum – and to a surprising extent this has increasingly resulted in an abandonment of narrative, rational discourse, content and the like.
Perhaps this is all to the good as the traditional critical analysis of poetry and most other literary forms has often represented little more than the critic’s personal response to writing. ‘The looped cord, the shadow, the skull, none of these is accidental,’ says Hugh Kenner in 1956 of a passage in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Of course, neither Kenner nor anyone else can know whether these images are accidental or otherwise unless Joyce states it himself and then there’s still an element of doubt as to its certainty.
The principal factor that makes a poem a poem isn’t its so-called meaning, but the aesthetic quality of its language. Coleridge may have recognised this and realised that his 1790s poem Kubla Khan didn’t conform with late 18th or early 19th century views of poetics and the nature of poetry and therefore, uncertain of its reception, delayed its printing until twenty years after it was written. It was ‘nonsense but divine nonsense’ according to John Livingston Lowes in The Road to Xanadu (1927) which reflects the critical limitations of this much later period and suggests that Kubla Khan may in some ways be one of the earliest poems in which the aesthetics of language take precedence over meaning. This is reinforced by the 1971 view of Norman Fruman in Coleridge the Dark Angel, who said (page 395), ‘Every interpretation is in an important sense a catalogue of the reader’s interests (and that of his culture at any stage of history).’
Increasingly from postmodernism through to semiotics, the medium seems to have overtaken most of the other aspects of poetry. Not everyone accepts this but because linguistic signs are human constructs, signifieds probably can’t be completely removed from them. Thus even if these don’t appear to relate to the poem as a whole, the medium, the language – signs, signifieds, and their bits and pieces – hold the poem together and determine whether it works aesthetically or otherwise.
— Alistair Paterson
; the development of literacy & semiotics
; pre-dates my becoming an archivist
[or an anarchist]
; was talking
about the possibilities of
the dates from
; now on in
; being recast
; so as to focus
more on diplomatic
relations with Havana
& ; the literacy of the
[a political & military tug of war
on indoor-outdoor spatial relations]
no universal definitions
though your accountant
may have other
ideas — he spends a lot
of time in his sister’s
kindergarten class. )
[sharp gaps in education]
[the ability to use relevant software applications]
[the dispatch as genre]
— Copyright Mark Young, 2011.
A dream creates a black horse which bites
and won’t let go.
This is just for you to see.
How isolated, how it wants to be
closer to us all.
I remember he would say Yes to anything.
To say No would be rejecting.
Some of the many toys fell
onto the floor and broke, the pieces
swept under the bed with a rake.
Never stand behind horses they can kick you
to death. And they don’t even realise.
A doll’s house surrogates
an emotional tripod.
There was a fourth person
who was there and wasn’t there.
My incomplete sister.
Letters whose handwriting I couldn’t read.
Birthday presents — always jewellery.
He tried to glue the toys together again.
Four different realities.
I held the reins carefully,
I was afraid of falling and breaking my back.
— Copyright Zarah Butcher, 2011.
sent me an email this morning.
Yesterday in the garage
I sorted 8 months of correspondence
saw several letters from Bob Creeley
now gone, one was about Ron Padgett!
Ron and I are surprisingly not gone
But it’s coming and for most readers of this
we’re already gone.
You wish you could have met us
especially Ron Padgett!
Like I wish I could have met FOH
Diane thinks she was at a party with him too
and Jerry Rothenberg was disdainful that I asked him
and said he was very small
(Jerry is 5-4!!).
(Frank was 5-7!!)
— Copyright Craig Cotter, 2011.