Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Poetry Readings, Telephone Boxes and Interpreting Poetry

Last night I gave a short reading (three poems) at the "Salon" event at The Arts Centre. The Salon is run by Writers' Centre Norwich and is primarily a networking event with a couple of short readings.  I was very nervous about reading as it was not really a "poetry crowd", but I had some great feedback afterwards.

image courtesy of Jrennie84
One man I talked to wanted to discuss the meaning of my poem Telephone Box - he thought that the message I was trying to convey was that it is harder to talk to someone who is far away than someone who is nearby - say in the next house.  This is an over-simplified view of the line in question: "it is difficult to talk over distances and mean anything" - I think that the meaning of this line is less literal but more metaphorical, it is emblematic of human relationships and the difficulty of human interaction.  I believe that it is more difficult to communicate effectively over any distance, big or small, than it is to communicate with someone face to face.  However greater physical distance also affects the way the mind views the separation and this can increase the potential for miscommunication and feelings of alienation.

The fact that the conversation in the poem takes place in a telephone box serves to increase the sense of isolation and disaffection of the speaker. There is, however, a deeper meaning than the one conversation. The poem could be said to be about the wider human experience of miscommunication and alienation - experiences that go beyond those of a phone-call but that can happen when you are speaking to someone in the flesh. With human interaction there often comes a large or small level of evasiveness and a lack of complete honesty. People also understand and interpret one another's words in terms of their own experience (ego if you like) and their own particular state of mind at the time the interaction takes place.  We also look for hidden meaning in one another's words using the tools available to us - reading of facial expressions, what we know about the speaker and their history etc.  All this means that even when you are talking face to face there is plenty of room for misunderstanding, misinterpretation and consequently alienation.

I chose the vehicle of the telephone call to convey this idea of how humans have trouble communicating with one another - the telephone box itself reinforces the idea of separateness, how ultimately we are all alone.

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