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Audience, Risks, and Voigt’s “The Lotus Flowers”

I would have liked to finish that discussion I walked out on yesterday (jeez, Obama) about whether and to what extent poetry is for the poet or a wider audience.  It’s something I think about a lot as a reader, and usually I fall on the side of the audience–because I believe that perhaps the most important thing literature can do is forge intense connections among people in a way little else can.  That’s not to say that I don’t value writing as a tool for the individual to become more in touch with her/himself.  I absolutely think writing is a rewarding act for oneself, but usually I think that kind of writing has more limits than the kind that you revise to make accessible to other readers.

That actually leads me to the biggest risk I found in “The Lotus Flowers”–the specificity of the setting and occasion.  It basically becomes a narrative–it feels like that especially on p. 81, four lines from the bottom of the page, till the end of the poem.  I almost felt like it was too specific description and not enough context for me to jump in.  To put it harshly, I never understood why this particular gathering was worth writing or reading about.  Maybe that isn’t important, maybe Voigt wrote this poem so that the reader can connect with it having little to no understanding of Voigt’s own history.  I hope so, but I just haven’t gotten there yet.  I’d be interested to hear where the class discussion went on this topic and/or to hear what anyone else thinks about audience and risks.


One Comment

  1. I agree with Natalie to a degree, and really appreciate her using the blog to write out something she wanted to say and couldn’t.

    We don’t really have a reason for the gathering–and so we can only go so far into the poem in that respect. I do believe strongly, though, that we can achieve the universal only through the specific, and Voigt’s poem resonates for me not so much in the reason for the occasion or its particulars–though the details make the scene quite vivid–but in the implications for the individual completely part of the “we” in the opening lines until she crosses the threshold to “I,” returning changed, then, to the group–not wildly changed, but not the same having encountered the solitary snake also paired figuratively with a girl.

    As a writer, I think about audience eventually–but never in the early stages of the poem. I appreciate Hugo’s telling us to look behind us as we write and see if anyone’s there. If we begin too soon thinking about audience, we risk writing “safe.”

    That said, I love a reader who “gets” me, gets me sometimes beyond what I knew I was doing. That’s a sweet feeling.

    Thanks again, Natalie!

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink