I’ve been asked to have a look at Sawako Nakayasu's prose poem "Couch." In a very nice email Brian Reed, Craig Dworkin, and Al Filreis say they “really hope you will provide your initial approach to the experience of reading and trying to discern or understand or deal with the poem as you encounter it.” Already I feel I’m in trouble.
I considered Sophia Le Fraga’s “W8ING 4” as a conceptual video-poem. I immediately placed it as a contemporary revision of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot by the opening phrase, “nothing 2 b done.” Le Fraga’s work also seemed more play than poem in its use of the mobile phone screen as a stage and deployment of texting as a means to update Beckett’s famous exploration of meaning, modern alienation, and the nature of human bonds.
First, some a priori statements. A poem is made out of language. Language arises out of need; most of our basic communication needs are denotative. Poets play with language in ways that other language users don’t (and when they do, we might say that such use of language is poetic).
I try instinctually to fit the poem into the literary contexts I’m familiar with, and to ask questions about those contexts: in this case, domestic fiction and its stylistic markers (why the generic anonymity of the couple?), the dream/vision tradition (am I supposed to view this through the same kind of lens, perhaps a psychoanalytic one, through which I would view a report of an actual dream?), and the inescapable implication of allegory (what is the “something else” I am supposed to arrive at via the poem?
I don’t usually wake to find myself without a clue about where I am. I generally have some sense of how my location relates to the broader world and the larger story of how I got there. Similarly, my first reading of a section from a larger work is usually preceded by an examination of the entire poem and a reading of any contextualizing text — back cover copy, introduction and afterword, perhaps even other discussions of the poem, including “First Readings.”