After reading Yusef Komanyakaa's piece, a reader does the math:
This is really helpful. Readers will note that I basically disregarded all the Australia imagery and took it to be about cocaine. Knowing Komunyakaa's intentions is helpful--but, for me personally, only to a point. A lot of what I'm saying is in the last post. Basically, I've come to believe in poetry--and I guess in all art--as a kind of partnership between the artist and the beholder. The "original meaning" is helpful, but, for me, neither necessary, and perhaps, not any more relevant than the meaning I invest in it.
Again, this comes out of basically spending my teen years listening to hip-hop. I'm going to write more about this later, but it's basically become apparent to me that much of what I took from hip-hop was a lot about what I heard, as opposed to what was being said. That's really OK, and it's not a knock--the artist has to make space for you to do that hearing. Moreover, I've come to feel that "what I heard" is actually what is important to me. There's something else--I became a poetry and hip-hop fan before the phrase "google it" had any meaning. Often you filled in the gaps because you had to, and artists--their influences, their intentions etc.--weren't as accessible as they are now.
The "I" in all this is really important. This is my way of understanding art and literature--I don't much care for establishing a "right way" to read a poem. The other part of the "I" is understanding that what I hear may not be what the artists is saying. For my money, I'm totally fine with that. For what it's worth, I'm only half concerned with facts of Koumanyakaa's King Billy, Rakim's Killer Ben, or Nas' Pappy Mason. I'm more concerned with how those words, used as they are, make me feel.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.