I believe all poetry can and should be sung as well as spoken and read. Some poetry I write comes out initially in song form, and some initially in spoken or read form, but all of it ultimately can and should find expression in all three modes. I also believe that not enough distinction is made between the spoken and read modalities of a poem. I think a poem is as different when read versus spoken as it is spoken versus sung or read versus sung. And I think until all three modes are experienced, the full meaning of a poem cannot be grasped.

I do understand that the notion of “grasping” the “meaning” in “full” of a text are modernist notions that deconstructionists have left behind. But I remember when I visited J. Hillis Miller not long after he took a position at UC Irvine to soften the climate for health reasons that he said he was working on a book about looking across boundaries like looking through windows or looking across fences separating backyards in a housing tract, and he said really it’s just an excuse to read some interesting writing and talk about it.

The first time I met Professor Miller was in the men’s restroom my first week of classes my Freshman year at college. He walked in and took a urinal a few down from mine and a bee was in the room. He said bees are fascinating creatures, and tossed out some factoid out about them, and I agreed they were. He finished before me and left, and I thought, “that was a nice old fellow.” Then I took my seat in the lecture hall and was gratified to see that nice old fellow trot up on stage and unpack his backbpack at the podium.

I ended up in his section and enjoyed a semester of weekly seminar discussions with him and a dozen of my classmates. We were exploring narrative forms and he was interested at the time in Freud in particular. I don’t remember much of those conversations at all except for his calm resonant voice and the down to earth manner in which he approached the particular panoply of texts he had set forth on the menu for us to knife and fork over that term. I remember it as a feast, a feast full of meaning, though the meaning itself was never clear — but that was the fun of it, and there it stays, more meaningful and less clear as time goes on.

Above all I remember Professor Miller as a fellow who loved to read, loved to talk about what he’d read and who spoke as if always subtly singing. So when I think about modernity and its discontents, I think about him and I think about how pointless it is to suppose there is anything to stepping beyond all that except just setting it aside and finding any excuse we can to just read, and talk, and sing.

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