Saturday, July 26, 2008

Seeing the Torturer in the Mirror

This is a poem I thought I'd forgotten about, but now that I've rediscovered it, I realize how much it's lurked in the back of my mind.

I've struggled to realize the value of art since the moment I began taking it seriously. I remember realizing I missed something wiser people saw after attending my first theatre conference. A man stood behind a podium and declared to an auditorium of thousands that drama meant more than just good entertainment. He told us that we suffer, even before getting on stage, to give an audience a gift many of them may never fully appreciate. He used other words to teach the gathered actors from around the state, but I heard his message for me clearly.

I took the first step when I realized that I missed something when I observed art. Since that time I've been trying to figure out what that missing something could be. For years I've pursued the theme to fill the hole in my experience. "If I can only find the theme, I'll have it!" Only recently have I started to understand that the real meaning of a poem can't be reduced to a theme. Additionally, a theme can't even be caught through direct pursuit. They're far too subtle for that.

I don't know exactly where that leaves me. I'm still trying to find a way to proceed. But I feel like I've made progress, and hopefully, even learned a little about myself on the way.


Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

-Billy Collins

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