Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Goosebump Test*

I am reading Seamus Heaney's Finders Keepers and it is lovely so this means that I dip into it one essay at a time, sometimes less, take a break to breathe and/or make notes (Tessa in Magic Flutes: 'Breathe!" said Tessa, shocked. "I don't need to breathe when I am with you!"**).

Today's reading is an essay called 'Learning from Eliot'. Now, Eliot is an influence impossible to elude in one's early poetry writing. But before writing, there was reading and - because Donne and Dante weren't our modern poets, though they were his - impossible to measure the impact his poetry had on all of us late-teens.

Heaney was prescribed 'The Hollow Men' and 'Journey of the Magi' for his A levels and, as with all students of poetry at that age, the study of Eliot was a wildly different thing from the experience of Eliot. (Just as an aside: we also had 'Magi' but we had 'Preludes' instead of 'The Hollow Men', arguably 'easier' from an exam point of view).

Upon his first encounter with 'The Hollow Men', Heaney describes his reactions thus: "What happened within my reader's skin was the equivalent of what happens in an otherwise warm and well-wrapped body once a cold wind gets at its ankles."There's a lot more that's quotable and you should just go read Heaney.

But the bellwether body as a tool of experiencing poetry is an idea that I am totally on board with. Someone should theorise it and I can habeas my corpus as evidence any time someone reads a certain kind of poetry that is my own particular, antique flute.

I mean, long before it is time to extract what Heaney calls 'the pacifier of a paraphraseable meaning', it is the body that experiences poetry, or the poetry in writing. I call this the Goosebump Test and it has nothing to do with R.L.Stine, I assure you.

Symptoms may vary, but anything that induces chills, fevers, hair standing on end, unspecified liquefactions, the inability to stay still and the illogical desire to embrace the entire world or hurl objects at people or things in order to discharge some excess - all of this and more, I include in the Goosebump Test.

(Needless to say, it is applied when you or someone else asks the question, "Yes, but is it poetry?" Caveats include the acknowledgement that not all poetry can be detected by the application of this test.)

Anyway. Back to Heaney, to whom I also owe my Word of the Day: 'simony'.


*Variations that include the words 'pimple' or 'flesh' just don't work. The first makes me giggle, and second - though sumptuous - is a little too avid for accuracy.

**Ok, fine. So I've been re-reading Eva Ibbotson and can quote without referring to the book. Is that a problem?

1 comment:

david jairaj said...

a fistbump for this post! i thought i responded to it earlier, but now i realize i didn't.

"the illogical desire to embrace the entire world" is what reading certain poetry does to me.