Thursday, May 10, 2007

Reader's Diary #264- Dylan Thomas: Everyman's Poetry (Selected Works) (FINISHED!)

"Blah, Blah, Blah."- Fearless (upon reading my last Dylan Thomas post)

While certainly not my most popular topic, I've never finished a book without blogging about it and this won't be any exception. However, I will keep it short.

Fuse, worm, sky, sea, breast, heart, death, sun, eye, and bread. I challenge anyone to find a Dylan Thomas poem that doesn't contain at least one of these ten words. To be fair, with the exception of maybe the first two, they're pretty generic words in a lot of poetry. However, for someone who likes to use stock words, you'd think his poetry would be a little more comprehensible. Elder Olson explained it by saying that Thomas's symbols only sometimes relied on the usual connotations. At other times the connotation might have to be drawn from the context of the poem and even then might change halfway through. All of this of course is fair and took a lot skill, even if it does make life more difficult for a reader. But to add a further obstacle, Olson suggests that Thomas sometimes used such words because of personal connections to them. In other words, they are used as symbols in a sense that might only make sense to himself, a prior association outside the poem. Unless I've vastly misunderstood Olson's theory, I think that is mighty unfair of Thomas. Fine if he was writing solely for his own gratification, but when it gets published and thrown to the masses, it just furthers the stigma of poetry as inaccessible. Ironic then that this collection would be printed as part of a series known as "Everyman's Poetry."


Barbara Bruederlin said...

But IS poetry written for the masses? Poetry strikes me as the most personal means of expression. And I think introspection that you see in poetry is perpetuated by the fact that, unlike novels, there are not huge numbers of poems in best sellers lists, which affords the poet the luxury of writing something more self-absorbed. Which then does not appeal to the masses.

It's a vicious cycle.

John Mutford said...

I agree. Most poets no doubt understand quite well that they're not going to be read by thousands. However, the act of publishing indicates that they want it read by at least a few others. So, I think loading up a poem that one aims to publish with only personally relevant symbolism must take a special kind of egotism. In the case of Dylan Thomas, I guess any such egotism was non unfounded. I'm sure there are more than a few English profs that have made careers out of researching and deciphering his symbolism.

Allison said...

As Barb says, I don't think poetry really is for the masses. In regards to the egotism of Thomas's writing, sure its there, but I think you could say the same thing for many other authors as well. Might just be me, but I like deciphering symbolism.

John Mutford said...

Allison, I guess I'm not being entirely clear. I do like deciphering symbols in poetry. It's one of my favourite aspects in fact. What I don't like is not having a fair chance. I think I should be able to figure it out from the context of the poem, the subject, the mood and so forth. I don't think I should necessarily have to dig into the poet's personal history to get it, and that's what I think some of Thomas's poetry was like.

As for it not being for the masses, I know that. But published under the ridiculous label of "Everyman's Poetry", it certainly was thrown to the masses, even if they didn't catch it. Though I realize Thomas can hardly be blamed for that. Everyman's poetry- like there is such a thing.

Allison said...

"I like deciphering HIS symbolism", key word missing from the sentence!

I think the reason I enjoy going back into his history, etc is because I took an entire course on it, so over the course of time it kind of became a habit (so yes, profs do make careers out of it). Yet as you point out, its quite a tedious process and really shouldn't be necessary for the reader to enjoy the poem.

I agree the label of "Everyman's Poetry" is quite hilarious considering everything. If we learned anything from your Coupland posts...labels suck.