Back on December 1st California’s Poet Laureate visited Bakersfield. For those that don’t know, that’s a position given to someone that does a lot to represent poetry. In particular, California’s Poet Laureate, Dana Gioia (JOY-yah), has made it his goal to present poetry in every California County. Which, given the population of some of our counties, means he’ll be talking to some pretty empty rooms.
Despite Kern County having a fairly active poetry community, there weren’t too many people there at CSUB to hear him speak. And people missed out. He was a great reader, he seemed to have many of his poems memorized, though he’d look at his book once in a while to remind himself of a word now and then.
Since the poems were his own, you’d generally assume that his interpretation would be what was really meant. He’d know how to read his own poems after all. However, for one of the poems he read, he told a story of meeting someone with another interpretation of what the poem meant. After he told the story he read the poem and I couldn’t see anything except the interpretation of that other person. He admitted to being surprised by that other way of looking at it, though afterwards realized that it had always been there to be found.
That has happened to me more than once. When someone else has read something I wrote, they saw something entirely different that what I thought I had said. But once they mention it, their view is also there. And I’ve always been thrilled when that happens.
In Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books, the Giants have a saying, “Joy is in the ears that hear, not the mouth that speaks.” And this is true of all writing. Writing does little to nothing until it finds its audience. It is when a writer gains a reader that the conversation really begins. Thanks for listening to me.