Sunday, October 12, 2008

Poetic Playfulness

I would like to launch a theory: A large part of a poet’s or writer's significance may lay in his or her playfulness, her ability to play with language and meaning and creating out of it a sensible whole with surprising turns of sense and imagination.

With this I do not mean playfulness in and of itself as in puns and annoying alliteration (haha), but as part of a larger oevre, with this as another layer of showing a perceptive mind and an ability to use language in a new and original way. Humour shows another meta-layer of language perceptibility or sensibility, and when sense is filtered through a layer of playfulness, this usually adds life to the written work in question.

It is always liberating to see a writer play with his or her own universe, to insert a streak of light heartedness or humour in his/her work. It actually shows a sense of love for language and a sort of return to the reasons he or she became a writer in the first place. Why write, why not paint or play an instrument or act or create in a different way? Language is the writer’s instrument, and through it he depicts every little nuance of what he feels like mediating. Language is also the most diverse and differentiated means of communication we have, which leaves writers with a great and thrilling responsability. Without creative souls reinventing language every day, it would stay static, and professional writers do have an impact on how we perceive reality and our own way with words. I, for one, am happy about this. Thoroughly thought through ways of using language always upgrade the system.

Especially with T. S. Eliot playfulness is a welcome feature. His poems often seem difficult and zig-zawed together from citations and allusions to other literary works. But he has another, more creative side as well, and this is eloquently and enjoyably expressed in his poems in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a work which is quite extraordinarily different from his other works and was meant for children. Here he is inventive and playful and produces a completely different tone from his more austere works like The Waste Land, Ash-Wednesday and most of his plays.

In many ways, writing for children seems to open a vein of creativity in authors. For example, it was not until J. K. Rowling started writing a children’s book that she got published, and why do we love Tolkien’s works so much? Or C. S. Lewis’s books about Narnia? Alice in Wonderland? Fairytales? In them fantasy, imagination and creativity is in free flow! It is a beautiful part of human existence to be able to create new worlds in which many other people feel at home and loved.

Thank heaven for the imaginative writers!

1 comment:

Jonathan Wonham said...

I think Eliot's playfulness also extends into his "serious" verse. Sometimes it is not easy to tell what is serious and what is nonsense, for example, "Sweeney Among the Nightingales":

Apeneck Sweeney spreads his knees / Letting his arms hang down to laugh, / The zebra stripes along his jaw / Swelling to maculate giraffe.

The first time I read this poem, I didn't understand what apeneck was. Apeneck sounded to me like a word that might mean "fussy". It took me years in fact to realise that it meant that Sweeney had a neck like an ape.

Eliot also playfully introduces all kinds of literature into his poems, such as snatches of overheard conversation, for example the gossipping women in a pub found in Part II of "The Wasteland".