Should a poem be ambiguous and cryptic? Should the reader be picking apart the meaning, coming to interpretations? That, surely, is why we study poetry, why poems like The Wasteland have endured as long as they have. Cross-medium, there are several universities where you can do an entire module on just what the hell Joyce was talking about in Ulyssess. Anime fans are still talking about what Gendo says to Ritsuko in End of Evangelion. David Lynch made a career out of making mystery films where the mystery remains unsolved at the end.
So art has to be ambiguous to be great or successful, right? It’s what elevates a story to being something worth studying, isn’t it? Interpretations and fan theories and such-forth. Particularly poetry. But there’s a sense that poetry’s inaccessible and can’t be related to. As performance poets, I think everyone in the studio is actively trying to fight that misconception. And does shrouding a poem in metaphor, mystery and allusion sabotage that fight? Moreover, with a David Lynch film, a James Joyce novel or a T.S. Eliot poem, it’s something you can own, study, obsess over. A poem performed exists in the air and dies when the poet stops performing. So a lot of performance poets preface their poems with an explanation of the poem itself. But does that undermine the power of the poem? Shouldn’t a poem be able to explain itself? If you think that, can you hide the real meaning of a poem within itself? It restricts the audience from a full understanding and the poet from the joy of having their poem fully understood.
There’s a lot of questions about the place of ambiguity on the performance poetry scene. Here are some poets talking about them and some poems that are ambiguous or are about ambiguity. And, as it’s recorded, you can study and obsess. You should, in fact. Listen to us often on the site and download the episode several times. Only by giving us more measurable success can you truly understand the poems and the poets…
– Neil Cathan