During my last year of high school, I had a teacher who a whole lot of faith in me. I have no idea why. When the curriculum turned to poetry, I confessed that I had never really gotten then point of poetry at this point in my life. In turn the teacher suggested I read Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. I gave the poem about as fair a shot as I could but ultimately got nothing from it. I certainly didn’t get enough from it to write a paper about it. The teacher was not at all helpful about it. That was the negative side of having a teacher who had a lot of faith in you: you are expected to produce results without their assistance. After asking the teacher for help repeatedly and never receiving it, I ultimately didn’t even bother to turn the assignment in. Taking my F for the grade wasn’t my issue with what had happened. Not understanding the god damned poem was.
In all likelihood, had the teacher given me an easier suggestion, this whole blog wouldn’t exist. It also wouldn’t exist if that teacher had bothered to sit down and help me understand it. After that assignment I spent a lot of time thinking about the things I consume anyway, and the work that must go in to enjoy them. An obsession was born, even though it took the better part of twenty years to get here. Put in enough work, and you can get to pretty legitimate answers.
I’ve thought a lot about reading. I have read a lot of experts who discuss reading as an activity (notably, Umberto Eco), and I have come away with a whole lot of conclusions. I like to read critical works (reviews), but I do not put a lot of stake in them. No matter how sophisticated, they are just opinions. Reading a review, what you are really learning is something about the reviewer.
It is funny how little I can say about Água Viva after having read it. Even the most basic question Is the book fiction, or non-fiction? I couldn’t tell you. Thinking about this reminded me of the conversations you end up having with the devoutly religious trying to defend the Old Testament. Everything turns into spin, and nothing seems like much of an answer, or at least much of an answer that will get you some kind of actual progress. Is it poetry or prose? I have no answer for this either.
There are sentences. I can say that with confidence:
At the bottom of everything there is the hallelujah.
This instant is. You who read me are.
I find it hard to believe that I shall die. Because I’m bubbling in cold freshness. My life will be very long because each instant is. I get the feeling I’m about to be born and can’t.
I am a heart beating in the world.
You who are reading me please help me to be born.
Wait: it’s getting dark. Darker.
The instant is of total darkness.
It goes on.Right. That’s a solid page of hers. I did not take any of that out of context.
At maximum kindness,one can talk about pretty sentences. but I can also say that pretty sentences are not enough. But that’s another issue for me. I don’t find these sentences all that pretty. but even if we were to give this book that kindness, so what of it? What we have in that case is the written equivalent to artificial sweetener -it reacts with the tongue, but once it gets into your system it is too chemically inert to do anything, and both you and the product are unchanged thereafter. But I have read novels with much more beautiful sentences than the ones above. And they got to a point.
So perhaps now we can go back to Kubla Khan.
I’ve reread Kubla Kahn. I didn’t take my defeat sitting down. I bought other books of poetry. I forced myself to sit down and fucking read them. All of them. I found authors I like. I found pieces I like. Gradually, I came to understand that poetry is a whole different type of reading. I don’t love it. It has much more to do with a performative aspect of our brains, and it is firmly about the esthetics. Kubla Khan connotes nothing, and it denotes a whole hell of a lot. Reading it sends me somewhere. I get the same feelings from this as i do from Microfiction.
I don’t get any of that reading this. I’ll keep this as short as possible. Água Viva is the adolescent thoughts of its author. In the previous sentence, adolescent describes the thoughts, not the author. She may not have been an adolescent when she wrote them. All they do is talk about the author. No joke, look at how many sentences have “I” in them. I don’t care who you are. i don’t see why anyone else should. As already mentioned, I didn’t find the sentences to be all that nice, but that may be the fault of the translator.
I didn’t feel anything reading this. I didn’t learn anything. Frankly, I felt like a I had an encounter with a massive narcissist.
And I cannot fathom why this book is so deeply valued.
Above, I wrote that reading a review you learn more about the person who wrote the review than you do the actual book in question. If everyone on a dating site had to put their own review of this book on it, I am reasonably sure it would give me a clear opinion as to whom I would get along with and whom I wouldn’t. Does that say anything definitive about this book? I am not sure. Maybe with all of the above I only spoke to how and why I read, what I get from reading.