Twelve o two is crying for attention.
Overloaded, the god in the machine
Is in a state of panic
And demands that you stop.
But down below, the surface
Where you are going
Looks so interesting, so dangerous,
Grey, pored with sharp edged holes,
Tempting in the blandness,
But each block a risk of irreversible
Landing. Dust fans out
In long white streaks
And the shadow of the spider legs
Meet the spider legs.
The guys about to turn blue
Breathe again, the guys up there
© Martin Porter 2010
Disregarding 12 O 2 is a poem not without controversy. It has been described as being a difficult poem, which is a description I do not accept. The subject matter is perhaps not as explicit as it might be, but this does not necessarily make a poem difficult. I would argue that the poem is clear in its use of language. The syntax may be more creative than might be used in informal speech but not particularly unconventional, Personally, I think the syntax is plain. The use of words is not complicated, each word being used for its common meaning and the phrases are not uncommonly used either. There are no complicated metaphors, no deliberate double meanings. The poem may not immediately give up its context, in fact the reader may need some research to discover the context, but the event described in the poem is one of the better known of the last century and certainly cannot be said to be specialist knowledge. I would be surprised if I met many groups of people who did not know that the event had occured. They might not accept it, but they would have heard or read of it. Many of my contemporaries may have watched it on television as it happened. So I would not classify the poem as being “difficult”.
Is the poem obscure? In one sense it is, in that it does need some research to identify the event. But close examination of the poem opens up clues to some of the solution. The pored grey surface as a destination and the mention of spider legs may trigger some memories in some of the older readers. The phrase “guys about to turn blue” and “breathe again” may offer some clues as well. Try using an internet search to identify them and the event is quite quickly revealed. It does require effort as I have crafted the phrases to not reveal the context immediately but to allow the searcher to discover the meaning. But it should not be hard for the intended audience to achieve this, especially as the poem is published on the internet on the “52/250 A Year of Flash” blog under the theme “Long Distance” – another clue to the meaning – and not as hard copy.
Is the obscurity deliberate? Most certainly. If it was not, the poem would be out of control. While out-of-controlness might not always be a bad thing, it does not reflect well on the craft of the writer. I would not say a poem should always be so restricted as to defy any flexibility in reading or interpretation, but I do believe the writer should engineer the space. Unintended opacity is, in my opinion, a defect in a poem and should be tackled. It reflects that the audience is either the wrong audience for the poem, the poem is the wrong poem for a given audience or the writer does not offer sufficient respect to the poem or the intended audience. Its no less wrong than a single slug in a restaurant salad.
Is this “obscurity” justifiable? Perhaps not, but sometimes a poem should not immediately reveal itself. Sometimes a rather prosaic event becomes interesting simply because it does not reveal its context immediately. I hope the language hooks the reader with phrases such as “Looks so interesting, so dangerous” and “a risk of irreversible/Landing” and encourages the path of discovery. I hope making the poem less explicit than it might be allows the imagination to work more effectively and for the subject to be enhanced by the links to possible interpretations that enhance the readers understanding. In other words, the writing should encourage the reader to imaginatively focus down to the event, rather than restricting the imagination to just the event. Does this prevent the poem from having meaning (whatever that may be)? I think it can give a poem an expanded meaning. It simply places some of the creative process onto the audience as well as the poet, and I believe this can be beneficial. Of course the writer can reveal all the secrets at once, but that can be destructive.
In “52/250 A Year of Flash”, further information is added to the poem in the epigraph. I now regret this. I believe it has compromised the readers path of discovery. If the poem is not worth thinking about it is better left alone, The poem could have been made considerably more obvious in its context by replacing the word “holes”. I chose not to do this as a conscious decision simply because it would make the context very obvious, perhaps the equivalent of putting any interpretation into a straitjacket. If the poem has value, it is worth researching. I hope the reader of this poem not only finds value in the written words and structure, but also in discovering that a well-known event in history which has become taken for granted has an interest beyond the bare facts – the “science” – and has a beauty and a thrill that is art. I also hope the path to discovery is a rewarding adventure.