you say tomato..

Someone read a poem I wrote and interpreted it in a way that transcended my intent. It was a beautiful interpretation and hung together very nicely on its own terms and with the text. Did I misread it? Is that what you meant? the person asked.

I didn’t answer in any meaningful way, I didn’t think I should.

It occurs to me that poems and their readers are like the two players on either side of a log xylophone, each playing a different melody. If everything comes together as it should – if the players are mutually aware and mutually sensitive -, they work in counterpoint, “slipping notes in the gaps of each other’s parts” and out of that (it always seems so miraculous to me) the audience begins to hear a third melody, knocking and throbbing and hanging out there in a phantom-like but very moving way.

No-one “wrote” the third melody. It is born of the interaction between the two players.

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3 thoughts on “you say tomato..

  1. “slipping notes in the gaps of each other’s parts”

    Where is that quote from? I googled but couldn’t find it exactly other than here.

    Yes, I love that place, the third melody (excellent name for it too). The universality that a poem can display, that it is open to, and allows, makes room for that place. That is where art lives.

  2. I believe that misreading is the result of bad writing and/or poor reading.
    Seeing as you a good writer and your reader’s interpretation of your poem was “hung together very nicely on its own terms and with the text”, I would say that it (the interpretation) was an alternative reading and not a misreading.

    I like your “third melody” anaogy.


  3. Vicky — Not sure why I had the inverted commas there. I think I was at least partially quoting myself — I wrote a poem once that was supposed to be about the third melody, although I don’t think it quite got there. That phrase was based on research I did on xylophones, I think — would have to look back to be sure.

    David — Alternative reading is nice! Very nice.

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