Monday, April 07, 2008


I'd like to write a poem called "energetic men" or maybe "energetic young men." It could be a good Lorraine flarf poem, although most of the search results are about war and missionaries, which seems a little too obvious, though there are a few gems: "The woman decides to make a film about these young revolutionaries and upon arrival in India she gets involved with a group of apolitical but energetic young men and women who love to party and only reluctantly agree to be cast in her film."

Today I don't care about authorial intention and I'm sick of the debate about it at Harriet. I guess I'm not that sick of it though, because I'm about to talk about it for a paragraph or two.

I love this moment in Willa Cather's The Professor's House when the Professor is watching Tom eat lunch: "At luncheon the boy was very silent at first. He sat looking admiringly at Mrs. St. Peter and the little girls. The day had grown warm, and the Professor thought this was the hottest boy he had ever seen." It's such a goofy pun, but I love it anyway.

I don't care if you were being sincere but the audience thought you were being ironic, or vice versa. Maybe your intentions weren't clear, maybe the poem changed your intentions, maybe the connotations of all the words you used spun out of your control. I named one of my chapbooks (and the URL of this blog, and also my first book manuscript for that matter) "Terminal Humming" without considering how quickly humming could become "hummer," and how the title of the chapbook could connote a kind of melodic, deadly and perhaps mechanical blow job. It now occurs to me that, of course, a hummer is a kind of car that is rather popular here in San Diego county and in the military in general. It is also, apparently, a kind of lobster and a slang term for a smelly corpse (that last definition fits with my intentions, kind of). Anyway, I clearly like the word, since I've used it so much, but at this point it's spun away from my intentions, even though I did, in fact, have specific intentions when I chose it.

I don't mean that words don't have specific meanings and rules of usage--of course they do, and poems generally use words. But finally there is no guarantee that anyone anywhere is going to understand your specific intention when you send your poem out into the word. Meaning and intention aren't they same thing--meaning is something that at least two people have to make together, through their intentions. Language is social, that's why every word in the OED has a long entry.


tmorange said...

i've always thought of TH as a kind of willful or unconscious happy oblivion or industrial buzz that one cannot shake from one's head, but now that you mention it...

K. Lorraine Graham said...

That was definitely my intention...but I find it very amusing that has others, too...

Ryan W. said...

the two things that are very strange:

1) when I write something and it becomes apparent that one or more people completely
misunderstood my intentions.

2) when I write something and it becomes apparent that one or more people completely understood my intentions.

anyhow it seems arbitrary, I never expect intentions to be understood, but maybe that's because I (and most of my friends) write pretty goofy.