Last night while playing Boggle, I opened, as I often do, the book I was leaning on. It was a book of poetry, sent to me for review from a well respected publisher. I won't name it as I have loved much of what this publisher has put out and have no desire to start a poetry war (and after all, Poetry Monday is about supporting poetry), but the first poem I came across was a seeming bunch of gobblydegook - random key-swipes on the laptop coupled with the odd ad phrase such as "soap on a rope". Very little in this book made any sense to me at all. Just to take another example, there was a concrete poem (couldn't tell what the picture was) consisting entirely of the letter a.
I don't want to go too far here in my criticisms. As a Joycean whose focus has been on the early 20th century modernists, I'm hardly against literary experimentation. However, the end point has got to be meaning. Even if that meaning is hard to come by and opens new areas of perception. Even if the meaning comes out of the kind of excessively simplified populist performance that (sometimes) makes up the slam. When you just throw words, and letters about in random patterns and syntax with no organisational principles - at least none that are comprehensible to the reader - you degrade, rather than explore and expand language.
Yes, I know there's a literary form called "Asemic Writing". This is writing that is specifically and openly devoid of semantical content. The basic tenet is that it leaves the way open for the reader to provide his or her own interpretation. Surely providing semantical content is the writer's job. Good poetry always allows room for interpretation and reader collaboration. Without any strong referent though, there's little to start the conversation.
Maybe the problem is with me. I'm quite willing to accept that. This book has won big awards. The poet, even more. Maybe my sense of humour is faulty. I do get that there's a kind of joke here, but I read it as a joke on poetry itself - a single trick that wears thin after the first time. Call me old-fashioned, but I want signifiers when I read. They can be subtle. They can take effort. They can be shocking and intense. But they have to add up to something for me as a reader. In the space between extreme estotericism and trite populism, there has to be a place where something meaningful happens with language - a place of connection between the writer and reader. This is poetry's great focus; its great gift. Otherwise it's just cacophany and emptiness. And there's already plenty of that.
What do you think? Is meaning making an important part of poetry or am I missing the point of asemic writing? Tell me what you think - and please don't feel you need to agree with me - I'd like to hear a justification of this kind of art.