Naming Everything

April 9, 2014

National Poetry Month.9



“The poet’s job is to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in such a beautiful way that people cannot live without it; to put into words those feelings we have that are so deep, so important, and yet so difficult to name.  The poet’s job is to find a name for everything; to be a fearless finder of the names of things; to be an advocate for the beauty of language, very serious stuff, art; it’s not just decoration.  The other job the poet has is to console in the face of the inevitable disintegration of loss and death, all of the tough things we have to face as humans.  We have the consolation of beauty, of one soul extending to another soul and saying, ‘I’ve been there too.'”
— Jane Kenyon, “An Interview with David Bradt,” The Plum Review, 1996


6 Responses to “Naming Everything”

  1. Elisa Says:

    This quote is interesting, though I do not agree with it at all. I wonder, specifically, about the ‘rules’ of poetry that come from mistaken teachings from without that add to and create a within that one doesn’t know is false. I suppose this happens with everything. I think that poetry can hold any job that is assigned to it and that any true meaning or intent of the writer can be then missed entirely. I am frowning at the grief comment. Ok, I am rolling my eyes too. 🙂

    • Rosemary Says:

      I chose this quote partly because it offers a different slant on naming, a followup to yesterday’s post. It’s funny how I can agree with so many different points of view, some of them opposites even.

  2. Rosemary Says:

    Just yesterday I read this delightful passage in the book Owls Head by Rosamund Purcell. It seems to fit perfectly with this discussion thread about naming.

    “How important are the names of things? In a junk shop in Paris, intrigued by a dim object, I asked to see ‘that thing.’. ‘If Madame does not know the name,’ the shopkeeper informed me, ‘it can be of no importance to Madame.'”

  3. shoreacres Says:

    The one point where I disagree, strongly, is where she says, “The poet’s job is to find a name for everything.” We can’t name everything, and even if we could, once we had all the names given, there still would be that nameless mystery, lurking around. I’ve heard it called a “surplus of meaning”. Even after a text has been explicated nearly to death, and we’re sure we know what it “means” — the meaning escapes us.

    On the other hand, the power of naming is real. In Genesis, you have it writ large. In Liberia, people who converted to Christianity or Islam from tribal religions would take a new name. As a matter of fact, Liberians who wanted to move from tribal culture to a more modern way of life would change their names, too. My houseboy was named Philip Lincoln — but that’s not how he started out!

    • Rosemary Says:

      Interesting comments about naming. Think of all the women who changed their names upon marriage (me included). What are the bigger changes that signified?

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