I thought I was done with annoying questions like “What is art?” after Arisia. But somehow, I’ve gone from “What is art?” to the even-more-obnoxious question, “But what does it all mean?”
(I swear we’ll get back to IF technique soon.)
Two poems I didn’t write
I found these poems on the Internet yesterday.
This one is about a failed marriage with some questionable overtones.
The first recorded owner of Isay
and cannot produce young, suggesting they
will fit the cases, hands and dials that they
are always celebrated on Sunday.
The store remained in business well into
the stranding of a juvenile female
of dolphin intervention came from New
and a description of the adult male.
The exhalation is released into
this time, the real importance of a line
from the blowhole and sounds emitted through
Iota rather than Evangeline.
“The Simpsons Guy” attracted a degree
of California to the Bering Sea.
This one is about the tension between scientific discovery and ethical treatment in dolphin research.
Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute
Ignore the competition, they are far
to be released details are very few,
is known about the vocal repertoire
of value from a moral point of view.
In recent years, the mountain range has come
about the dolphins and the pressures they
proposed that regulated water from
discovery that occurs long the way.
The incidental capture of marine
impacts of climate changes are those that are
an estimated net decrease between
the driver never had to leave the car.
In other words, the cost of the campaign
is present in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
A digression about interpreting poetry
The first time I remember interpreting poetry was for high school forensics – by which I mean not forensic medicine, but competitive public speaking (as described here). I competed for four years, and in those four years, I went through poetry, original oratory, dramatic duo interpretation, and back to poetry again, bouncing between events due to a yen for drama, a gift for writing, and a distinct lack of acting talent.
In each new poetry season, the first step was to read through your chosen poem with the forensics coach, explaining your interpretation each step of the way, as proof that you understood the poem well enough to perform it for an audience. I had certainly encountered symbol-heavy poetry before then (and written it, as well), but I think that was the first time a teacher asked for my analysis, rather than explaining it first and then waiting for me to parrot it back in an essay.
We made those poems our own, we put our own stamps on them through performance – but we always knew there was a “right answer”. We knew poems were like a riddle or a puzzle. We knew you could make them your own, but we thought there was only one real way to unwrap them, and the writer had the final say. If we said X was 2 and Y was 4, but Diane Wakoski (unofficial poet of Michigan forensics 1) announced that X plus Y equalled 8, then she was right and we were wrong.
Between high school and college, I got very good at literature analysis. But most of the texts we used were written decades or centuries before my birth, and I (like so many students) always had the vague impression that literature was dry and ancient and irrelevant, an assortment of books mostly sold so students could pass their classes. And literature analysis felt like an equally irrelevant skill.
Of course, I was wildly wrong. Being able to analyze media messages is a critical modern skill, constantly invoked by a plethora of content ranging from movies to music to games. We do it every day, and sometimes we all agree on what something means and sometimes we don’t, and we generally agree that the meaning in a piece of media matters. (For evidence, look no further than Beyoncé’s new video “Formation” and the National Sheriffs’ Association response [http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2016/2/why-are-cops-taking-beyonces-affirmation-of-black-strength-as-an-attack.html].)
Digression over, come back.
Why these poems matter
“Bottlenose dolphin” and “Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute” are perfectly acceptable poems. The imagery becomes a bit obtuse in places, and I wouldn’t claim to understand it all, but I could build a solid defense for the interpretations provided above.
But they have no meaning – at least, not from the position of the author. Both poems were randomly generated by Wikisonnet, a system created by Ana Giraldo-Wingler, Cassie Tarakajian, and Sam Tarakajian. They pulled every iambic pentameter line out of Wikipedia and wrote an algorithm that would build sonnets from those lines, given a starting Wikipedia article.
“Bottlenose dolphin” – http://www.wikison.net/poems/176
“Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute” – http://www.wikison.net/poems/177
The source code for Wikisonnet is available on Github (three locations: here, here, and here). You can tweet a Wikipedia article name at @wikisonnet to request any sonnet you please, and then see all the references by going to the poem’s page at wikison.net.
So “Bottlenose dolphin” isn’t about a failing marriage. And “Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute” isn’t about dolphin research. They’re not technically about anything. They are, if anything, a subset of the Wikisonnet team’s artistic statement about the nature of art.
Another poem (author exceedingly unknown)
What if the sonnet were less oblique? Consider this one:
According to the Bible, Ezekiel
(in Category: Subject Headings), now
believed the unicorn to be a real
creation, as perspective would allow.
A set of six engravings on the same
position was important; in a true
Biblical ceremony, he became
in a position to enforce his view.
The Southern Lion has a single horn,
is also celebrated in a grand
depiction of the spiral unicorn,
but lost her ring while touring through Finland.
Interpretations of the unicorn:
Osborne and former wife of Jack Osborne.
That wasn’t the Wikisonnet original. I altered a few lines to skew it toward a specific interpretation of that poem. But it isn’t very altered.
If it didn’t have meaning before, does it have meaning now?
What if it had looked like this in the first place?
…and more obnoxious questions that I don’t have answers for
If the author and audience disagree on the interpretation of a given piece of media, who is right?
If there is no author at all, whose interpretation is correct?
Does found art only have meaning once someone finds it?
Does computer-generated art only have meaning once someone reads it?
When no tree falls in the forest, but everyone hears it, did it make a sound?
how do we do it?
Get from day to day,
when nothing is simple or innocent,
not even poetry or music?”
— Diane Wakoski, from “Virtuoso Literature for Two and Four Hands”, 1974
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- She wrote long poems, so we could reliably find something in the required 5-8 minute range; she wrote free verse, so we didn’t get trapped in a sing-song rhythm of meter and rhyme; and she wrote emotional, dark, image-dense poetry that appealed to teenagers and judges alike. I rarely walked into a round where someone wasn’t reciting a Wakoski poem, and by my senior year, I had one of her poems myself. ↩