Sentinel Poetry (Online) – October 2005

Online Magazine Monthly…since December 2002. ISSN 1479-425X






Poetry as an Easter Egg.


Early in education most of us must have been impressed by those poems always signed off with ‘anonymous’. The teacher never cared to explain who that man or woman, Anonymous, was. More mysterious was the fact that these poems occurred so frequently and had only one name attached to them instead of the usual first and last names of a poet. So Mr. or Ms. Anonymous was a very prolific poet but a mysterious and engaging one – “ah, another poem by Mr. Anonymous!” And of course such offerings took on more significance or interest due mainly to the mystery surrounding them.


And such is the case with the poem I stumbled upon between the pages of a Doris Lessing’s book titled, The Golden Notebook! Well, irony of ironies! A golden notebook which begets poems! It naturally reminds one of the Easter egg and the tireless ever-laying proverbial golden hen. The antics of the electronic hen- electronic, that is, since the invention of the internet- fascinated me so much that I was once forced to heed the goodwill call of persistent  e-card sellers and sent a card of an hen sitting and hatching away to a couple of harassed academic friends. I duly signed the e-card with the punning electronic flourish, “have a good lay!”


        Lessing’s book becomes a womb for all kinds of surprises beyond the plenitude of words formed from the letters a-z, which resulted in this fat tome - all of five hundred and more pages. There is also the gratification that this situation could lead to all kinds of structuralist and poststructuralist games with randomly drawn cards bearing – ‘intertextuality’, ‘the meaninglessness of meaning’, ‘Derrida derided’, ‘the death of the author’  ‘binary pairs’ and so on. A book is indeed a surprise waiting to catch the unwary reader by the lapels and swing him around to face – of all things, words! Talk about the plotting book! And what can be even more surprising; your irascible deconstructionist might insist that this Lessing novel itself is not complete without that little fragment of a poem found inside it; that it is ‘writing in the margin’- never mind that the poem was not in the margin this time but embedded in the middle of the huge narrative itself. One could quote Roland Barthes- Image, Music, Text. (1977), on the death of the author: “We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture. Similar to Bouvard and Pecuchet, those eternal copyists, at once sublime and comic and whose profound ridiculousness indicates precisely the truth of writing, the writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them. Did he wish to express himself, he ought at least to know that the inner ‘thing’ he thinks to ‘translate’ is itself only a ready-formed dictionary, its words only explainable through other words, and so on indefinitely”


In short it can be argued that the poem, ‘mis-placed’ as it is inside the tome, is inter-textual to the novel; that the infinitely deferred meaning of lexical items making up The Golden Notebook is further deferred away by the presence of the lexical items of the poem on the one hand and of the ‘poetry’ as a single unit of signification on the other. It is such that The Golden Notebook would then not mean at all without this shiny scrap of poetry, whose existence is nevertheless autonomous and contradictory; or that the meaning of a novel of five hundred pages or more would be necessarily refracted by this frail little poem.  Poor Doris Lessing. She probably never would have imagined what structuralist problems she set in motion the moment she began her novel. And she also never did know what fate would befall her book; what reader would pick it up and leave it on some lonely mailbox in a dead street in Ottawa, Canada in the year of our Lord or our Lady (whichever the case might be) 2005. Barthes is vindicated. The work is produced but it has an existence independent of the author, who takes a back seat to the reader. The author is dead!


The writer of the poem, the poet, must have placed his or her work there to send a message to the casual reader who might pick up the novel from its abandonment on the mailbox within an apartment block which itself looks abandoned from the run of rain and wash of time and sun on its walls. Or he or she simply penned something out of boredom or a whim, placed it in-between a novel and promptly forgot about it, having achieved the cathartic release of self-expression. The anonymity of the poem emphasizes Barthesstructuralist idea that the reader is more important to the art of literary production, displacing the humanist model built around the author. In the surreptitious fashion in which Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, slipped things into our childhood lives, I anonymously discovered this gem ‘laid’ by Doris Lessing’s Golden Notebook on page 277, precisely. The thoughtless thing was etched out in blue ink- probably with a ‘bic’ pen - on a piece of white grainy toilet paper. It is a thought solemnly expressed; an untitled mental note. It is a casual passer-by’s observation of the world he or she lives in as that world floats by. It is unpretentious in diction, a frail, quiet thing, satisfied in its own anonymous, clear-eyed recognition of events. Perhaps the beauty of anonymous poetry lies in the fact of an unpretentiousness that simply celebrates the poem’s mere existence. It is self-referential and does not point to anything beyond itself. And if the casual reader discovers it; he does no more than eavesdrop on a private conversation, it is literary voyeurism. And this voyeuristic aspect is what makes anonymous poetry ‘sexy’, and gives to it most of its literary force.


This accident of a poem does have an author whom we shall never know; in a sense then the author is dead. The anonymous poem is as, Georges Battaille would have it in a different context in Erotism: Death and Sensuality, ‘discontinuous’ with the existence of its author; the anonymous poem celebrates the reader and kills the author as the structuralist would have it.



Amatoritsero Ede


Carlton University,

Ottawa, Canada



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