'Do you get it?' Poet questions the struggle to be understood
Poet Jaswinder Bolina will be reading at WMU's Bernhard Center on Thursday night at 8 p.m. as part of the Gwen Frostic Reading Series. He’ll read from his second book titled Phantom Camera.
It’s only been very recently that Bolina started self-identifying as a poet. He says once he met a woman in a bar and when he told her he was a poet she laughed, apparently thinking it was his idea of a pick-up line.
“As much as I shudder to say it,” he says, “I guess I’m a poet, and I’m getting a little bit more proud about saying that, but it’s taken a lot of years”.
Bolina’s first book of poetry, called Carrier Wave, won the 2006 Colorado Prize for Poetry. He recalled many of his loyal friends, after they bought and read the book telling him that they didn’t 'get it.' He thought about that as he wrote his second book and wondered:
“Do we need to be accessible? Is it our job to meet the reader or should the reader work to meet us where we are? I don’t have an answer to that question, but I feel that asking the reader to play catch-up feels a little pretentious. So I think what would a person who is a neuro-scientist or a physician or a lawyer or a schoolteacher, or even a high school student, how can I write in a way that’s going to challenge them, but also entertain and connect with them?”
Bolina says he imagines all artists struggle to be understood. He says art, whether an abstract painting or experimental music, is simply something beautiful to encounter, like a night sky. The viewer doesn’t necessarily have to understand it. But, he says, hearing a poet read their own words can add to the experience and aid in understanding.
“With the poem it’s tough because poems are made of words, and everyone uses words and language, primarily as a tool, a way to convey information and expedite our lives. When someone uses language for something else, something abstract we can get suspicious. We wonder what the poet’s game is. What the poet’s game is really to construct something that you are supposed to just encounter. Hopefully it will confuse you, make you think about different things. But, hearing the poems really helps. It reminds us of the humanity behind the art and the audience just hears someone up there expressing themselves.”
Poet Jaswinder Bolina and novelist Mandy Keifetz will read and discuss writing April 11 at 8 p.m. in WMU’s Bernhard Center.