Symbolic Transformation

4 Apr

by Jeff Flodin

Last night, I took Randy (Jeff’s guide dog) to his first poetry reading. He remained attentive throughout.  Only once did I catch him with his paws over his ears, and that was during a sonnet, so it didn’t last long.I too struggle with poetry.  While prose poems are accessible, the fancier ones baffle me.  Their meaning goes beyond the page, into the land of symbols and metaphors where I lose my way.

Here in Vermont, among poets and artists, I seek clarity.  I explained my problem to W. B., a modern Renaissance man.  W. B. employed an engineering analogy to explain things.  “I’m lucky,” he began, “to be able to look at something, a machine for instance, and see its inner workingshow the gears, springs and belts create output.  Poetry is similar—words work together to create output.Output in machines is work; output in poetry is concepts. Concepts are not tangible, they reach into another dimension.”

“This is helpful,” I said.  “For starters, I panic at ‘Some Assembly Required.’Must be because I fail to see the interrelationship of physical components even when provided with instructions, diagrams, and audio tutorials.  No wonder I have trouble with concepts.”

“Understanding the process is what I call ‘symbolic transformation,’” said W. B.

“Aha!  I think I’m having an ‘aha’ moment here, “ I said.  “Here’s how.I figure batting averages in my head.  I calculate how many square inches of cherry pie are in a 9-inch pie tin.  I even do cubic inches if I’m really hungry.  Arithmetic and geometry have purpose and meaning. They’re like words.  But calculus and algebra baffle me the same way poetry baffles me.  Does this mean I’m short on symbolic transformation?”

“I like cherry pie, too,” said W. B. “But where I really kick it into gear is when I consider the abstract, the theoretical pie, if you will.”

“I wanta pie I can sink my fork into,” I said.  “So, I guess I’m challenged in the area of symbolic transformation.  I think I’m stuck in two dimensions.”

“Being two-dimensional is valid,” said W. B., sparing my feelings.  “But I find it too black and white to dividethinking unequivocally between two-dimensional and three-dimensional.Why, there can be five, six, ten, twelve dimensions.”

“Now you’re scaring me,” I said.

“The point is that being two-dimensional does not mean that an object lacks value.”  said W. B.

 “Right you are.  Even Freud said, ‘Sometimes a pickle is just a pickle.’  At least, I think he did.  Still,” I continued, “I’m certain even a small dose of symbolic transformation will make me a better person or, at least a better poetry listener.”

“You needn’t feel you need to be a better anything,” said W. B.

“Now you’re getting humanist on me,” I said.

“A nice balance, wouldn’t you say?  Next time, we’ll discuss whether or not zero is possible,” said W. B.  “One school says an object is divisible down to a minute fraction, but never to zero.  Another school says zero is possible.”

“I’m of the school that says when you divide a cherry pie among your dinner guests, you end up with zero pie, unfortunately.”

“Whereas,” concluded W. B., “with my theoretical pie, the pleasure can become infinite.”

Jeff Flodin has RP.  He lives in Chicago and writes the Jalapenos in My Oatmeal blog for Second Sense blind service organization.  This awakening to poetry came to Jeff during his writing fellowship, courtesy of a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Access Writing Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT.  February in Vermont encourages writing—indoors, warm, dry and well-fed.  Who says creativity requires suffering?  (You can also learn more about Jeff on the Statement page of this blog.)

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