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Reading A Poem Can Be Like Opening a Re-Sealable Packet of Cheese
Tear here, it says. Just in the corner where two thin clear sheets almost, but not quite, seal together.
So you attempt to separate them.
You work your thumb nail between the two so you can, with your thumb and forefinger, pinch the top piece of plastic away from the bottom, and tear.
The anticipation of the cheese assails you.
Except you tug and nothing happens.
You pull again, harder. Nothing.
You apply full force and the plastic corner slips out of your grasp and the cheese thuds onto the floor.
You pick it up to try again. You are nowhere near on speaking terms with this cheese.
You go back to the key corner, the official way into the cheese.
You read it very carefully.
It definitely says ‘Tear here’ – that MUST be the answer.
Again you get hold of the little plastic tab and pull as hard as you can, and again ... nothing happens.
Is there something wrong with you? Has the packaging lied?
It’s impossible to get into the cheese this way. What sort of a person does it take to get into this cheese?
Or perhaps it doesn’t mean ‘tear’. Perhaps it’s tear, as in sob, wail and cry. If you weep over the cheese, will it open for you?
You are not prepared to cry just to get into the cheese.
So you fetch the scissors, the little pointy ones that will slide down neatly between the edge of the cheese and its containment. Snip, snip, snip.
Like a time-served brain surgeon, you fold back the plastic lid. The cheese is exposed.
It looks oddly shiny. Shiny and polished. Too polished, like the cheese itself is made of plastic.
You can stare at it but you don’t want to devour it.
And of course, you can’t re-seal. You can wrap it in cling-film or foil but you can never start again from scratch.
What will you DO with the cheese now?
In a spirit of vengeance, you go for a workshop implement.
You grate the cheese. You reduce it to a pile of airy syllables.
The whole meaning and literary tradition of the cheese – where is it now? And who is to blame?
The person who put that cheese in that packet, that’s who.
The person who said it was intended for consumption.
The person who said ‘Tear here’.
Only one way to read a poem, Nell - out loud. Poems are like music, written to be heard, even if it's only reading to yourself.
Unless you are deaf, in which case you think about these things a little differently... There is a concept: 'the listening eye'. But I might add that there are some poems that DON'T RESPOND however you read or listen or see them. So this last blog was really about the impenetrable poem. And this phenomenon does seem to exist.
I think I may have written a few impenetrable poems myself - it's an occupational hazard, I suspect. Mind you, just because I don't understand them doesn't necessarily mean that no-one else will. I'd overlooked the question of how poetry works when you can't hear the sounds of the words.